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Judas Unchained (Commonwealth Saga)
Judas Unchained (Commonwealth Saga)
by Peter F. Hamilton
Edition: Paperback

44 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous stuff, 31 May 2006
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Despite reading a lot of it, I'm not actually a massive fan of Sci-fi, especially Space Opera. Although as a genre it's produced some greats (for example, Clarke, Brunner, Dick and Bear), the vast majority is easy-reading brain candy which helps me relax after a long day at work without making me think.

I've read a fair amount of Peter F Hamilton with this in mind - I wasn't overly smitten with the 'Night's Dawn' Trilogy, and Fallen Dragon was also very ho-hum. The first book in this series, 'Pandora's Star' was interesting enough to make me look forward to the sequel, but I still wasn't singing it's praises.

Judas Unchained starts unexceptionally enough with the usual SciFi and Fantasy staple of two dense pages naming the major characters and then the plot gets cracking.

About four hundred pages in I realised something. Despite dozens, if not hundreds of named characters and at least a half-dozen seperate plot threads which cross and weave at no point had I got confused as to who was who, what was going on or where the story was. As a feat of storytelling and authorial skill this is remarkable.

I've never doubted Hamilton's imagination, but in the past his writing has left much to be desired. With Judas Unchained he seems to have overcome his former limitations and this book is, undeniably, the work of a tremendous writer at absolutely the top of his game. Yes, there are criticisms. Other reviewers have pointed out that his characterisation of women is poor and that is his big weakness as a writer. Beyond that, though, Judas Unchained is a remarkable work of the imagination and of writing and whatever your views of SF, this is a book I'd heartily recommend.

Five Stars.

Rogue Trooper (PC DVD)
Rogue Trooper (PC DVD)
Offered by Satsumo
Price: £6.99

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not awful, but not great, either., 21 May 2006
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I read the first issue of 2000ad when my brother bought it when I was 5. I started buying it for myself in 1981 and immediately my favourite characters were DR & Quinch, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and Rogue Trooper. I remember the enticipation every Saturday morning when my copy would be delivered with the papers.
When the Judge Dredd game came out a couple of years ago I played the demo and made the wise decision not to buy the game, but with the release of Rogue Trooper I couldn't help myself and splashed out twenty five sovs.
It's okay.
It's not the stinker Judge Dredd was, but it's not going to win game of the year.
The graphics are somewhat dated - it looks like the Quake 3 engine and, in the wake of Quake 4, Half Life 2 and Far Cry, it just looks a bit old. If the gameplay was good enough (like Jedi Academy) this can be overlooked but sadly that's not the case. There are some great little tweaks and innovations - your backpack (Bagman) can make you ammo, you can use your rifle (gunnar) as a senty gun and so forth, but there aren't any moments when the game grabs you and drags you in like in the aforementioned classics. As it is, you just run through the levels shooting the bad guys and nicking their stuff, much like many other games.
There's a huge backstory and history around the character, but the depth which the established comic character has is lacking, and at no point does the player really feel that they're actually involved in an all-or-nothing future war. If anything, it feels more like an episode of Splinter Cell with more gunplay and slightly worse animation. There are neither the hordes of troops you'd expect, nor the insanity of war so well drawn in the comic.
I might be sounding negative, but it's really not all bad. A fan of the comic character will get a lot out of it, but I'm not sure someone who doesn't know the background will as the backstory is only very loosely sketched.
Like I say. Not great, and not awful. Just very ho-hum. If Rogue Trooper had appeared on the shelves two years ago, it would have been hailed as a classic. As it is, it feels dated and surpassed by other games of the last twelve to eighteen months.
Another missed opportunity by the developers, and I can only hope that the promised Stronium Dog game delivers a corker.

Mortal Mischief: (Liebermann Papers 1)
Mortal Mischief: (Liebermann Papers 1)
by Frank Tallis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong start, 25 April 2006
"Mortal Mischief" is the first in a proposed series of 'Leibermann Papers'; the adventures of a young Psychoanalyst in turn of the century Vienna and his association with the police in criminal investigation. It's an interesting a read; the crime in question is a variation upon the old 'locked room' murder mystery (in which a noted clairvoyant is found shot dead in a locked room with no bullet to be found and teh key on the inside of the door). The setup is well-constructed and the denoument and explaination is satisfying - the crime is explained leaving me impressed in a 'I hadn't thought of that' sort of way.

What weaknesses the novel has are authorial - apparently this is a first novel, and it's interesting how the reader can watch the development of skill as the book goes on. Mortal Mischief opens with far too many overblown similes and develops into a much more restrained writing style later on. More irritating is the perfection of the lead character. The author is a Psychiatrist and large sections of the book read almost like propaganda for the profession; Liebermann is too perfect. Observant, intelligent, wise, gentle and kind, there is never a moment of human failure in his deductive powers of the sort even Holmes sometimes had ("I have been blind, Watson, blind!"), and those who oppose him and his profession are too stupid, unkind and ruthless to really engage the reader's sympathies with his character and struggles.

In all, it's a good book and a clever mystery, but weakened by the over-perfection of the lead character and a writing style which needs polish. Hopefully these wrinkles will be ironed out in the next book of the series.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - Sith Lords (PC)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - Sith Lords (PC)

12 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I wish I'd read the reviews before buying., 6 Mar. 2006
It all starts so well.
The sequel to the phenomenally popular Knights of the Old Republic, The Sith Lords begins several years after the events of that game with the last of the Jedi (you) on the run from mysterious attackers, both Sith and Bounty Hunter. As you travel the galaxy you will find out more about your character's backstory, as well as gathering a party of followers each of whom has a backstory and a plot of their own and as you interact with them your relationships and stories become richer, more developed and more interesting. With missions traversing several worlds and an overaching backplot which grows more dangerous and strange as you travel the whole package is an intiguing one. You can select from amongst your followers to accompany you on your missions and adventures according to their skills (although, to be honest, when you get another couple of lightsabre-wielding jedi there isn't much point taking anyone else) and as you make decisions which lead you to the light or dark side of the force, so they will be influenced and fall or rise with you. There are one or two minor bugs and inconsistencies, but nothing I couldn't live with.
So far, so great. However, about three-quarters of the way through, it all goes badly wrong.
Other reviews have said that this game was rushed through production in order to meat sales deadlines and the last quarter of the game makes this abundantly clear. The relationships and backplots established with your companions are completely forgotten saving for ten seconds of exposition right at the end. The endgame jumps from one major set piece to the next with no linking plot and a bare minimum of story to explain what is going on and, considering the quality of what has gone before, this is a major letdown. The endgame makes no attempt to explain the first three quarters of the game and if you're hoping that the plots which you've just spent the last week investigating will be resolved, well, you're in for a nasty surprise. Instead what you get is hastily-written filler to end the game which often makes no sense, ending with a dramatic escape in a spaceship which you saw destroyed not five minutes prevoiusly.
What a disappointment. After a tremendous setup, the whole thing just collapses into a rushed mishmash which left this reviewer feeling cheated. KOTOR 2 is the gaming equivalent of The Phantom Menace: pretty and with a lot of potential, but ultimately not what it promised on the box.
I could not recommend anyone spend their hard-earned cash on this game, and so I'll recommend Jedi Academy and Far Cry instead. Now those are games worth buying.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 4, 2009 12:26 PM BST

Porco Rosso [DVD]
Porco Rosso [DVD]
Dvd ~ Hayao Miyazaki
Price: £9.99

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greats, 6 Feb. 2006
This review is from: Porco Rosso [DVD] (DVD)
It is the 1920's, and the Adriatic is plagued by sky-pirates, terrorising shipping in souped-up seaplanes. Facing off against them is the greatest pilot of them all - the mercenary known as Porco Rosso: The Crimson Pig.
This is a story of heroism, comedy, love and redemption, and the animators get more conviction out of an animated pig than many real-life actors can manage. Set against the rise of fascism in post-Great War Italy, Porco Rosso offers a story about why someone would adandon their humanity, and what it takes for them to get it back, in the middle of the most beautifully animated sequences of flight I've ever seen. Miyazaki loves his flight sequences, and it is this film which showwcase his love and skill more than any other he has done.
Coupled with a cast of well-drawn supporting characters and Ghibli's refusal to view heroes or villains as anything other than people with motivations and flaws, Porco Rosso is as skillful a piece of filmmaking as you're likely to see.
For my money, this is Studio Ghibli's best film, which means that it is one of the best anime films ever produced. You'll love it, and so will your friends and any children you have about the place.

Age of Empires III (PC)
Age of Empires III (PC)
Offered by Digitalville UK
Price: £8.50

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weakest entry to the series, 24 Jan. 2006
Age of Empires 1 (Ancient world) was ambitious but flawed, and Age of Empires 2 (Medieval world) fixed those flaws and offered excellent gameplay and value for money. Sadly Age of Empires 3 (17th - 18th century) doesn't really build upon the success of two; instead it feels like a weaker rehash of 2 but with improved graphics, and good graphics do not a great game make.
To summarise by points:
1) Gameplay: So-so. Whilst the game offers a lot of different units and potential upgrades, the reality is that three ranks of musketry and a half-dozen artillery pieces make for an impregnable army, and all the other options are superfluous. AOE 2 required mixes forces (pikemen, infantry, cavalry and archery), but AOE 3 doesn't. Whilst this may be historically accurate, it's not very interesting to play after a while. The troop formations which were so integral to victory or defeat in AOE have been entirely left out of this game, leading to your armies running aimlessly after foes to their slaughter unless you keep a controlling eye on them.
2) Graphics: Excellent. In places, brilliant. Prettiness does not hide gameplay flaws, however.
3) The Campaign: AOE 1 and 2 based their campaigns on historical reality, and allowed the player to rise as Rome or fight the Crusades. AOE 3 rewrites history; Slavery is omitted, and I learned that the American Revolution was started by the British staging unprovoked attacks upon their own colonies at the nehest of the Illuminati. The Campaign is also far too easy and quick to play, with little thought given to challenge or replayability of levels.
4) Multiplayer: Maps are too small with, once again, little thought given to balanced map design. Victory or defeat can depend very much upon where you start on the map, and not on your own skills.
5) The Home City. The big addition to AOE 3 is your home city, which can send you men and materials as the game progresses. It's obvious that the designers realised that the game needed something to differentiate it from its predecessors and the Home City is this, but the execution feels rushed and really it adds little to the game.
In all, my feeling is that AOE 2 on White Label is a better place to spend your money - alternatively, wait a month until a lot of second hand copies will be available cheap. It won't take long for people to get bored of this game.

Codename Outbreak
Codename Outbreak
Offered by Garrod Trading
Price: £2.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An overlooked gem, 6 Jan. 2006
This review is from: Codename Outbreak (Video Game)
Codename Outbreak never really made the impression that it could ahve done for such a neatly constructed small-suad based shooter. Possibly because Tom Clancy's name wasn't in the title people tended to overlook this game, which is a shame because it has a lot to recommend it and at the White Label price it's a steal if you like FPS's.
With just enough plot (the world is being invaded by aliens who take over people's brains!!!omg!) to hang together more than a dozen large missions, it's not an intellectual challenge, but it is most certainly a tactical one. Gunplay is realistic enough in that if you get into a stand-up fight you're probably dead, so stealth, planning and sniping are the order of the day, and your squadmates are 'intelligent' and controllable enough to be useful. Little tweaks like night vision, Infra-red and even (occasional) active camoflage giving limited invisibility plus the option to choose whether to play missions at day or night make the tactical options varied enough to give replay value to the game as well.
Graphically it's not much to look at in comparison to say, Far Cry, but the large, free roaming outdoor locations of many of the missions make this game a definite precursor to last year's tropical hit. Furthermore the russian setting and voice-acting give the game an atmosphere often lacking in the oft-bland FPS genre (although the repetitive NPC voice acting can get irritating over time).
Overall, a good game. Looks a little dated now, but solid fun and well worth your money at this price.

Olympos (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Olympos (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Dan Simmons
Edition: Paperback

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So what was all that about?, 2 Dec. 2005
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By the time I'd finished reading Ilium (the first book of this pair) I was enthused with anticipation. How on earth, I wondered, can the author tie up all the plot threads, characters and storylines into a satisfying, coherent and meaningful conclusion. I couldn't wait to find out.
If you're wondering the same thing, I can answer you: he isn't going to.
Ilium was a fast moving, exciting Sci-fi blockbuster with a lot of good ideas. With Olympos, Simmons piles on even more plot threads and ideas until the whole thing just collapses into incoherence. With the Greek Gods, teleportation, nanotechnology, magic, alternate universes, Shakespeare, Proust, artificial intelligences, quantum effects of consciousness, shaceships, islamic fundamentalists, black-hole bombs, little green men, Mars and more, the author throws in everything you can think of - by the end I was expecting Hitler to wander into the narrative, possibly carrying the kitchen sink because they were the only things which hadn't thrown into the mix.
Long flagged plot threads are wrapped up in a couple of lines, the villain of the book just ups and leaves about a hundred pages from the end with no satisfying resolution, major characters appear and then disappear with no indication of where they have gone, and other characters have resolutions which - to put it politely - make no sense whatsoever.
Terry Pratchett can get away with using the excuse of "it's all Quantum, innit?" when excusing plot hoes in his books because he writes comedy. An author of Simmons' calibre cannot get away with it and having read Olympos from start to finish my over-riding feeling is that not only did I not understand how the book ends, I don't think the author does either. What is worse, is that there isn't much evidence of the author caring. The last hundred pages feel rushed, as if the author is as sick as you are of the whole thing and just wants to get it finished so he could go and watch Lost instead. Which is what I advise you do. It's more satisfying and it makes more sense.

by Koji Suzuki
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Second-rate sequel, 2 Sept. 2005
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This review is from: Spiral (Hardcover)
I haven't read the book of the original 'Ring', but I saw both japanese and US versions and I was fascinated by what the writer would do to continue a concept which scared the bejeezus out of me at the cinema. The answer is: not very much.
The book starts promisingly enough with a young doctor finding very strange results in the autopsies of victims of the original cursed video tape and setting out to investigate the causes. However, what follows is the worst error any horror writer can make - the book explains what is going on and how it works.
This disengages the imagination of the reader: rather than sitting on the edge of my seat gnawing at my nails and wondering just what and how, the author explains what and how in very dry prose and so renders an original and frightening concept fairly dull and unconvincing.
There's one solid scary scene in the book - as the young doctor investigates an apparently deserted flat and it becomes increasingly clear there is *something awful* in there with him - but this is a solitary highpoint and there are more chills to be had reading a collection of MR James ghost stories (a real master).
In all, it's not a bad book per se - but it is a profoundly disappointing one given the promise of the original.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (PC)
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (PC)

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crouching Tiger, Hidden Jedi, 2 Sept. 2005
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
On first inspection, Jedi Academy seems just to be a mission pack for the much more hyped predecessor, Jedi Outcast, and I suspect that that is what it was in initial planning. However, the final product is a tremendous standalone game which for my money excedes the already high standard set by Jedi Knight 2.
There's a plot, of sorts, which links a dozen or two short standalone missions but really the storyline (featuring a minor character from Jedi Outcast as the villain) is secondary to the gameplay, which is fantastic.
Jedi Outcast gave you force powers, after a fashion, which developed at pre-set stages as the game progressed. In jedi Academy not only are there more powers to develop, but you can choose which powers to gain (this charting your characters fall to the dark side, if you like). Not just this, but as you progress through the game your character can pull off increasingly fun 'Crouching Tiger' style flying leaps, jumps, wall-runs and more which do little to make fighting your foes easier, but add immeasurably to the gameplay. It's not often I call someone into the room so they can see what wildly improbable force-related stunt I've pulled off now, but Jedi Academy had me showing off to my friends with them laughing with glee and agreeing that this was what the New Star Wars films *should* have been like.
It says something when games developers "get" Star Wars better than George Lucas, but they have here. Jedi Academy may not be an intellectual challenge, but it's an absolute hoot to play with plenty of replay value.

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