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M. Wenzl "harlequin21"

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Offered by Mane UK Ltd
Price: £16.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Great cosmetic solution for even advanced stages of hair loss, 19 Aug. 2016
I am 27 and have been slowly balding over the past four years. I have a fairly large bald patch on my crown, my hairline has receded a lot and now the entirety of the hair of my scalp has thinned a lot. Even now, MANE hairspray allows me to completely conceal this. Not only does it make the hair look thicker, it also holds your hair in place, so you can use hair from the back and sides to cover up the patches. It is undoubtedly an excellent cosmetic solution for hair loss, even at its advanced stages. I would advise anyone who is using it to proceed on the principle of 'less is more'. Adapt usage to each stage of hair loss. Excessive application can make it obvious that you effectively have a spray painted head.

The are some minor trade offs. First off, it's messy: touch your hair and you will have spray in your fingers. It gets on the pillow (although it can be washed off) and if you're not careful, surfaces that you may rest your head against, e.g. walls. Second, I'm not sure to what extent having the spray on your scalp is actually damaging for your hair. Many cases of hair loss result from (or are accelerated by) blockages of the follicles or slowed blood flow. This results in hairs being 'strangled' as they grow through, causing them to become increasingly weak and fine. As I say, I don't know if MANE contributes to follicle blockages: it is hard to judge and up to the consumer to decide whether they want to take that risk.

Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4)
Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4)
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece despite its flaws, 23 Jan. 2015
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With ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ (DA:I), Bioware have righted many of the wrongs committed in ‘Dragon Age II’ (DA:2). Nowhere is this more apparent than in the richly expansive world they have crafted. This is more than just an improvement on the cardboard environments recycled in DA:2; it’s set the standard for next-gen RPGs.

The action takes place in the Thedesian nations of Orlais and Ferelden. The story is a simple one: a cataclysmic explosion at a peace summit between the warring Mages and Templars opens numerous breaches with the spirit world (‘The Fade’). The protagonist – custom-made, as per Bioware tradition – is sucked into the Fade and then emerges with a mysterious mark on his hand, which allows him to close the breaches. He is appointed as the head of an inquisition that seeks to solve the crisis, which brings him into conflict with an immortal magister who thinks himself a god.

The main story is probably the weakest of the Dragon Age trilogy. A major issue is that the game has a beginning and a middle – but no substantive end where the choices that have been taken, and relationships that have been cultivated, pay off. Bioware have never failed to wallop the emotions and tug at the heartstrings, especially in its seminal Mass Effect series; however, in DA:I they haven’t delivered.

But: the game is still a masterpiece. First, it’s redeemed by the subplots and, in particular, the politics of trying to build a consensus among the warring factions of Thedas. Some of the greatest highlights involve playing off rival factions against one another, whether for good or ill. Indeed, there’s one particular quest where the protagonist attends an imperial ball, initially with the task of preventing the assassination of the Orlesian empress – but before long, an impressively stressful array of alternative choices unravel. These high points more than compensate for some of the narrative fizzling later on.

The characters are also as colourful and well written as ever, reliably mixing humour and pathos. Old favourites return – including a former protagonist – but the new blood doesn’t disappoint either. It’s only a pity that the protagonist is able to do so little to shape their respective fates. And although each character will judge you for the decisions you make, ultimately this doesn’t appear to amount to much.

The combat also strikes a good balance for seasoned RPG fans and greenhorns. In battles, the player can choose between a real-time, turn-based mode of combat, and a top-down, classic turn-based setting. More effort has gone into making the combat more tactical than DA:2, which was crudely repetitive. Certainly, the combat – along with the customisable weapons and arms – will satisfy most players; although I have to admit, personally I have yet to find a RPG where the combat combines pace, skill and excitement into one bruising package.

But the game’s undisputed achievement is the scale of the world itself. Each major map – of which there are perhaps a dozen – is huge, unlike anything seen in a non-open world RPG. And no map wastes an inch; each brims with content that can keep players occupied for hours. The visuals and graphics are also well worthy of the new generation of consoles. The magisterial landscapes resemble moving paintings, especially the protagonist’s Wagnerian stronghold, Skyhold, a castle situated high in snow-capped mountains. The loving craft is palpable: every location pulses with myth and mystery.

So in many ways, DA:I is a mixed package. Bioware haven’t yet perfected an all-round formula for the series. But in many ways, this doesn’t really matter; the high points of DA:I are so impressive that the lows (which aren’t even that low) can be overlooked. Indeed, it’s undeniably one of the best games of 2014.

Inside Austria: New Challenges, Old Demons
Inside Austria: New Challenges, Old Demons
by Paul Lendvai
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A view from an adopted outsider on the inside, 25 Sept. 2014
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The history of the Second Republic of Austria is one chequered with economic success and the shadows of Nazism. The country – dismissed as ‘the state that nobody wanted’ following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – emerged from the ashes of the Second World War as ‘the state that everybody wanted’.

At least, this is the opinion of Paul Lendvai, a journalist who was adopted by Austria after he fled his native Hungary in 1956. In a complicated country beset by contradictions and self-doubt, Lendvai enjoyed a highly successful career, first as the Central and Eastern European correspondent for the Financial Times; and then as an editor at various public broadcasters, among other roles. During this time, he had access to the majority of the big players in the republic. Today, he remains a highly respected figure, his legendary status second only perhaps to Hugo Portisch.

Lendvai has written several books about the history of his native Hungary, including one sharply indicting Viktor Orban, the current prime minister. However, his treatise on the Second Republic – ‘Inside Austria: New Challenges, Old Demons’ – is no less personal. More than anything, Lendvai sets out to give this misunderstood country a fair hearing, dispelling myths and acknowledging neglected truths. As an Austro-British hybrid – who is able to view Austria as an outside observer – I found this approach made for profound reading.

Lendvai begins the book contemplating the ways in which Austria has been viewed internationally over the decades. Although there has been great admiration for the political and economic stability that the country achieved after its post-war rebirth, there are few other European countries that have attracted such condemnation, either. The controversial aspects of Austria’s reputation are tied up with its seven-year relationship with the Third Reich, and how its legacy was dealt with afterward. The orthodox – and in many ways tenuous – explanation was that Austria was a ‘victim’ of Nazi aggression. However, this overlooks that Austrians voted overwhelmingly in favour of annexation by the Third Reich; that no small number of senior Nazis were Austrian; and that a residual nostalgia for Nazism pervades sections of Austrian society even today.

It wasn’t just that Austria never repented for the past in the same way that Germany did – and continues to do: it was the fact that the Austrian establishment seemed totally unwilling to confront the issue in any substantive way, going as far as to turn a blind eye to the former Nazis were still at large, whitewashing their pasts and in some cases even serving in government. Two infamous cases illustrating this point involved, first, allegations in 1986 that the newly elected president, Kurt Waldheim, was a former member of the Nazi party who knew of ethnic cleansing in northern Greece; and second, the entry into government in 2000 of the far-right Freedom Party under the leadership of Jörg Haider, a populist who openly praised aspects of the Nazi past, whilst downplaying others. The defiance of the Austrian establishment in the face of furious international condemnation gained the country pariah status. Haider’s entry into government outraged several EU states to such an extent that they imposed diplomatic sanctions on their fellow member.

Lendvai – himself Jewish – recounts these episodes with gusto. He acknowledges that Austria grappled half-heartedly with uncomfortable truths in the post-war period. He similarly argues that the conciliatory approach of the Austrian establishment towards former Nazis – to forgive and forget, unless an actual crime had been committed – allowed some undesirables to blend into the political landscape, unseen, having brushed their sins beneath a carpet no one liked looking under. But he locates the Austrian wartime experience on a wider European canvas where hands everywhere were dirtied. He poses the question: can Austria alone be singled out for its unwashed laundry when unashamed fascistic sympathies exist in France, Italy, Hungary and other European states? Have these former accomplice states shown the same repentance that Germany has? Viewed in this way, it immediately becomes clear that latent fascism in Austria is not a continental anomaly.

Lendvai also argues that international commentary has overlooked the magnanimity of Austrian society. He recounts how during the Cold War, this frontier state accommodated for asylum seekers every time there was a crisis, despite its neutrality: for the Hungarians in 1956, for the Czechs and Slovaks in 1968 and for the Poles in 1981. He recounts the extraordinary progressivism pioneered by (the Jewish) Bruno Kreisky, the Socialist chancellor who ruled between 1970 and 1983. Given that the Second Republic has mainly been ruled by grand coalitions, the fact that Kreisky ruled with an absolute majority for much of his tenure showed how most Austrians rallied behind his progressivism.

Lendvai spells much of this out at the beginning of the book because it is a crucial lens through which to read the history of the Second Republic; and, perhaps surprisingly, it is a fascinating history, written with a journalistic vigour that seamlessly intertwines fact with anecdote. Much of what makes the book essential reading for those interested in Austrian history is Lendvai’s talent for anecdote, combined with his own exclusive backdoor access to the stage on which the story was – and continues to be – played out. Indeed, Lendvai was particularly close to Kreisky, who was undoubtedly one of the greatest of the post-war European statesmen. As Lendvai portrays him, Kreisky appears as a no-nonsense outsider who was always accessible, always curious to know everyone around him, and a master communicator. Some of the stories are legend; the most famous perhaps being when Kreisky – who was listed in the phone directory – was rung up by an elderly woman in the middle of the night, complaining that her roof was falling in. Kreisky immediately called out the fire brigade for her.

Another fascinating character is the first chancellor of the First Republic, and first chancellor of the second, Karl Renner, a wily operator who approached the Soviets in 1945, masquerading as a nice-but-dim old politician … one who would go on to extract from them a promise to hold free elections, which resulted in the Communists being soundly thrashed. The book is full of such personalities, including the fastidious reformer Josef Klaus, the omnipresent Rudolf Sallinger, and the consummate showman Jörg Haider.

The book isn’t what might be considered a definitive history of the Second Republic. It certainly isn’t entirely comprehensive; lots of details are omitted. Sadly, the last couple of years of Austrian politics – which is currently building up to a breakup of the post-war political consensus – aren’t covered (although hopefully Lendvai will release an updated edition). More than anything, it’s a story of Lendvai’s own wanderings through the political landscape, and his reflections both as an outsider and an insider of a complex country that is simultaneously conservative and liberal; magnanimous and closed; serene and temperamental; neurotic and leisurely; repentant and unrepentant.

Watch Dogs (PS3)
Watch Dogs (PS3)
Offered by Rush Gaming
Price: £10.98

31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Next-generation premise dogged by last-generation design, 1 Jun. 2014
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This review is from: Watch Dogs (PS3) (Video Game)
Since being unveiled at E2 in 2012, ‘Watch Dogs’ was a game with a lot to live up to. Much of the hype was rooted in the fact that consumers were anticipating an ambitious leap into the next generation of gaming. The premise of hacking into a digitally interconnected Chicago was the perfect springboard for such a leap.

It was probably inevitable that the game couldn’t live up to expectations in every respect; but the real problem with ‘Watch Dogs’ is that it doesn’t even try to make the leap Ubisoft Montreal promised. It’s a game very much rooted in the tried-and-tested formulas of the last generation. Although disappointing, this shouldn’t necessarily prevent a solid gaming experience; but it becomes clear very quickly that not only does the game lack the promised ambition, it also suffers from sloppy execution, lazy design and – a problem Ubisoft have never addressed in past games – formulaic repetition.

The result is a very lacklustre effort. The story is probably the worst Ubisoft have cooked up, centring on Aiden Pearce, a hacker-vigilante who is seeking revenge on the people responsible for the death of his niece, and kidnap of his sister. For all his soft-spoken menace, Pearce is an oddly empty character who fails to muster much sympathy. He’s in the same league as other lacklustre Ubisoft protagonists, such as Connor Kenway from Assassin’s Creed 3, and Jason Brody from Far Cry 3 – in other words, a reckless, arrogant, selfish tosser. Despite some memorable supporting characters, it’s difficult to invest emotionally in the story. In an industry where artistic flair and writing worthy of cinema are making increasing headway, it’s disappointing to be lumbered with this uninspiring effort.

The world is similarly empty. Chicago is a vast urban sprawl with a variety of areas, but little substance, colour, or character. To be fair, a lot of effort has gone into bringing the pedestrians to life. As Pearce, it’s possible to view the personal records of every single person encountered, which is a nice humanising touch. But this is as far as it goes. There are shops and mini-games to dabble with but these features feel shallow and superficial. There’s also little sense that, besides demolishing fences and trees, the world is responding to the actions of Pearce. It’s dull and opaque, a palate hardly helped by the mediocre graphics and shoddy draw distance.

The gameplay is mainly filler. As is typical of Ubisoft games, there are four types of missions, involving a combination of either driving to places, or tailing, capturing or killing someone. Objectives are completed in a very linear way. Sometimes, in a throwback to past generations, missions are failed when you, say, detected while trailing someone. At best, you can go in loud or quiet. Indeed, stealth is worked in but it’s not particularly challenging or innovative. The main feature of being able to hack into the city’s digital infrastructure isn’t fleshed out enough, acting more as a nifty background feature limited to unlocking abilities that are exercised by pressing the same button.

Not only this, but the two gameplay mechanics that are the bread and butter of open world, sandbox games – namely, driving and shooting – actually represent a step back in terms of design. The driving controls are unresponsive, as if you’re steering a tank. Although the guns feel as though they pack a hefty punch, targeting enemies feels clunky. The physics are also very poor, making it feel like you’re gunning down cardboard cut outs. This isn’t helped by the fact that most of the enemies look like Quebecois hipsters – sporting thick-rimmed glasses and flat caps – rather than hardened criminals. On occasion, the mechanics come together: causing a traffic pile up through hacking into a pipeline to cause an explosion, before engaging in a pitched gunfight, is pretty satisfying. But for the most part the game feels like a bland photocopy of Grand Theft Auto 4 – the dizzy heights of copying Grand Theft Auto 5 are a long way off.

I’ll admit, I felt angry and betrayed during the first few hours of gameplay. After that, I became accustomed to the design and began to enjoy ‘Watch Dogs’ for what it was: a second-rate open world action and adventure game with a few nifty features of passing interest. On these terms, ‘Watch Dogs’ is a perfectly serviceable game that will wile away a couple of hours. It probably won’t hook you like nicotine or its superior gaming cousins, but provided you know what to expect, there’s plenty to enjoy. Maybe I expected too much – but this is as much the fault of Ubisoft Montreal as my own.

N.B. This review is exclusively for the PS3 version of ‘Watch Dogs’. It’s possible that the graphics, for example, are significantly better on next-generation consoles.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2014 7:39 PM BST

Welcome To Sarajevo [DVD]
Welcome To Sarajevo [DVD]
Dvd ~ Stephen Dirrane
Price: £5.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric and authentic; but superficial and hackneyed, 16 July 2013
This review is from: Welcome To Sarajevo [DVD] (DVD)
'Welcome to Sarajevo' was filmed in the titular city little more than a year after the siege initiated by the Serbs had been lifted. This proved to be at once the film's greatest asset and its biggest shortcoming. On the one hand, filming on Sarajevo's scarred streets and in its hollowed out ruins lent Michael Winterbottom's picture an authenticity rarely found in other war films. However, for the very reason that memories of the conflict were fresh, the film focused on the superficial aspects of the siege; the horror and the desolation, everything that tugs at Western heartstrings.

Whilst that approach isn't problematic in itself, it's been done many times over. Indeed, 'Welcome to Sarajevo' has little to say other than that war is bad and innocent people die. It poses some interesting questions - such as, is it possible for a journalist to remain disengaged and objective? - but again, this is ground well-trodden by films such as 'The Killing Fields' and 'The Year of Living Dangerously'.

That said, the performances can't be faulted. Stephen Dillane is typically restrained as the British journalist who takes a Bosniak orphan under his wing. Woody Harrelson gets the showier role as an American correspondent, whose gung-ho attitude sees him constantly veering between heroism and odiousness. But the cast don't have much to play with. The writing is superficial and often rushed. The relationship between Dillane's journalist and the Bosniak girl, for example, isn't fleshed out. There is little interaction between them, the film failing to take the time to explore in depth any of the issues is raises. Dillane's decision to protect the girl seems to be based on the fact that he simply feels first-world guilt.

Michael Winterbottom's style is unique, as he blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, weaving in news footage and sometimes using camcorders, in what is undeniably effective editing. But he also misfires in his use of music. Contemporary rock tracks play over several scenes, giving the film that trippy, rock n' roll feel originally pioneered by 'Apocalypse Now' - and since hackneyed by innumerable war films. Elsewhere, Winterbottom uses the admittedly beautiful classic piece, 'Adagio in G Minor', but again, this is an obvious and hackneyed choice.

A criticism commonly made against 'Welcome to Sarajevo' is that its stance on the Bosnian war is one-sided. The Serbs were the villains and the Bosnian Muslims the victims. Although there are scenes in which atrocities are shown, this assumption is more implicit; Winterbottom doesn't really take a line. The film is based primarily in Sarajevo, where people were being killed daily by sniper and mortar attacks. Winterbottom seldom ventures outside of that bubble, leaving him only to focus on the sights and sounds, rather than the bigger picture. Given that 'Welcome to Sarajevo' was a British film made in the immediate aftermath of the war, it has to be seen as a product of its time, rather than a critical portrait.

Colloquial Slovak (Colloquial Series)
Colloquial Slovak (Colloquial Series)
by James Naughton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £26.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Deceptive product, 29 Dec. 2012
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WARNING: Do not buy this product from Amazon. This book requires an accompanying CD otherwise getting your head around the pronunciation is impossible; but it is not made clear that the CD is not included with the book. The CD is sold separately for the same price, so you will end up out of pocket by £50. This product is sold elsewhere with both components at a significantly cheaper price.

Very disappointed. The product posting is very deceptive.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2016 2:17 AM BST

Far Cry 3 - The Lost Expeditions Edition (PS3)
Far Cry 3 - The Lost Expeditions Edition (PS3)
Offered by Blackburn Merchandise
Price: £28.52

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mirror images and flip-sides of coins, 10 Dec. 2012
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With 'Far Cry 3', Ubisoft have perfected the method of gameplay first developed for 'Far Cry 2'. FC2 was a strange beast: the compelling atmosphere and brutal (if frustrating) realism was counterpointed by mind-numbing repetition; so it's to Ubisoft's credit that they've developed a spiritual sequel that's much more eclectic and fun, even if they failed to recreate the chilling and claustrophobic atmosphere of FC2.

That said, there's not much to complain about. The world Ubisoft have created is a playground of creativity, destruction and exploration. A diverse array of settings and transportation, as well as a sense of progression, are great incentives to this end. Moreover, at the beginning of the game, protagonist Jason Brody - whose friends and family have been taken hostage by pirates - is told that he must bend nature to his will. This may be hyperbolic, but FC3 provides the appropriate opportunities like few other games. Rook Island teems with wildlife which can be hunted, their skins used to upgrade Jason's equipment. Ubisoft have also retained the brilliant fire-spread system pioneered in FC2, allowing devastation of a variety of environments.

This is a big step forward from FC2, which had plenty of stick but not a lot of carrot. The war torn Central African setting was incredibly atmospheric - and in many ways more compelling than Rook Island - but the gameplay was tantamount to Groundhog Day. Enemy outposts re-spawned, making a simple move from A to B an arduous ordeal. And although the uniform hostility of the world contributed to the claustrophobic atmosphere in many respects, Ubisoft really prioritised punishment over reward. Ultimately, the lack of interaction reduced the beautiful world to just that.

None of these issues remain in FC3. Taking on an enemy outpost is an exhilarating affair which accommodates for stealth in a way that FC2 miserably failed to do. Few things in the game are more satisfying than cleanly eliminating outpost guards before they were even able to bat an eyelid. The introduction of an XP-based system allows Jason to unlock individual skills which hone his ability as a killing machine, unleashing new ways of shaking things up.

The flaws boil down to a matter of preference more than anything else. Although the game has some great characters - the pirate warlord Vaas and the arms dealer Hoyt are memorable villains - Jason's story generally, and his character in particular, is a crushing bore. It's really hard to sympathise with a foolhardy group of moneyed American tourists, especially when the protagonist is a whining whelp who has all the gravitas of a fresher. Throughout the course of the game, he becomes the strongest warrior on the island but he's not convincing. He just comes across as selfish, spoiled and self-obsessed, and it's hard not to cringe at the things he says.

Another issue is that FC3 simply doesn't have the gruelling atmosphere of FC2. The latter really had a heart of darkness at its centre, and the political turmoil, even if it pulled its punches, had a relevance that masked much of the hollowness of the experience, making it much more immersive and impactful. Ubisoft try to create this magic with FC3 but they try a little too hard. Token moments of 'horror' are thrown in for effect but they don't match the slow creep of FC2's minimalist dread. Ubisoft also made a lot of fanfare about the "post-modern", "meta" nature of the game, but this aspect is fleeting and doesn't make much of an impression. In terms of 'literary' substance, Rook Island feels comparatively bland and overblown. It's a thrilling playground for sure, but the bar setting atmosphere isn't there in the same way.

An underlying theme in FC3 is that of the duality of nature. Is the reflection that stares back our Doppelgaenger, or are we one and the same? In this respect, Jason and Vaas are flipsides to the same coin. The same dynamic exists between FC2 and FC3. It's crucial to know one in order to fully understand the other.

Assassin's Creed III (Exclusive Edition)[PS3]
Assassin's Creed III (Exclusive Edition)[PS3]
Offered by Revival Books Ltd
Price: £15.21

64 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A heady brew of towering ambition and immense frustration, 28 Nov. 2012
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'Assassin's Creed III' is a clear labour of love. The world that Ubisoft have created is as dense as it is expansive; as beautiful as it is alive. But it varies wildly between moments that are utterly inspired, and others which are the total opposite. Indeed, the game is a project of such ambition that at points it's obvious that Ubisoft bit off more than they could chew. And although AC3's failings tower above the successes of other games, those failings are conspicuous enough that this final instalment in Desmond's story marks a step backward even as Ubisoft take two steps forward.

The game has four main problems. First, the character of Connor - a half-English, half-Native hybrid out for revenge against the Templars who burned down his village - comes across as little else than a hot-blooded brat, spouting platitudes about `freedom' like a broken record. He has none of the likability or gravitas of AC2's Ezio Auditore, against whose legacy he pales. It was very difficult to invest emotionally in the character, and ultimately, his story, despite an enthralling backdrop and a strong set of villains. Connor's blandness is also a particular disappointment given the exceptional quality of the first three sequences of the game, during which the player steps into the boots of Connor's father, Haytham, whose moral complexity and quiet charisma made him a sumptuous aperitif preceding a half-baked main.

Second, although the world is vast, much of the gameplay (especially the side missions) just feels like filler. This has always been true of Assassin's Creed to some extent, but Ubisoft managed to mix it up a lot more in AC2, pulling it off with such verve that it was rarely a chore. AC3 marks a serious step back in this respect, with many of the side missions being simply recycled if not outright duplicated. It's so formulaic that there's next to no incentive to bother engaging with them. The biggest travesty of all, however, is the management of Connor's settlement. Unlike in AC2, its development hinges on completing banal tasks for the inhabitants. Direct management of the economy is possible but it's so unclear how to engage with it that it just comes across as needlessly complex filler.

Third, although stealth is still very much a factor, it has an erratic role in the gameplay and can be needlessly frustrating. For example, once Connor has been spotted, it's not possible to hide again until you escape your enemies, which is incredibly difficult to do. The notoriety system, in particular, is very unforgiving, a bizarre feature in a game which overall prioritises combat over stealth. It's also a shame because stealth and prowess only translates into the first two or three Templars Connor assassinates, sections which show off the very best of the game and are sadly dispensed with later on.

Finally, the game weirdly suffers from its commitment to realism and period detail. This isn't Ubisoft's fault per se; but the architecture of eighteenth century Boston and New York was very utilitarian. The urban environments may be atmospheric and faithfully recreated, but they are also bland and repetitive (again, duplication is an issue), making them a chore to traverse as they are expansive. However, despite the visual commitment to historical accuracy, Ubisoft end up pulling their punches in terms of substance. The British are staunchly the `bad guys' here, even if passing reference is made to corruption and hypocrisy among the Continentals, and their penchant for slavery. Given how exhilarating and intellectually stimulating the settings of the Holy Land, Renaissance Italy and Constantinople were, AC3 disappoints overall.

But where AC3 excels, it really excels. The gameplay itself has largely been perfected. The combat system has been revised and turns fighting into a brutal, fluid ballet. There's much more emphasis on being proactive in combat (previously a major problem in the series) and it's more challenging as a result. And it looks beautiful. Few things become more satisfying than effortlessly cutting down a column of redcoats in fresh fallen snow. Climbing and movement is perfectly executed, Connor lurching around with the agility and ferocity of a cougar. The diverse, open world of the frontier is a saving grace, especially given the constraints of the cities. And sometimes, the gameplay meshes perfectly with the story and setting, creating memorably cinematic moments: be it sprinting up Bunker Hill, avoiding British volleys; or clambering up a cliff face without being spotted to reach your target; or chasing your target through the chaos of a French-Indian ambush on a British column in the wilderness. Lorne Balfe's score is a great complement to these moments.

Indeed, AC3 is worth the purchase on account of its ambition and scale alone. Ubisoft have surpassed themselves in terms of the overall polish and slickness they have brought to AC3, qualities that previous instalments never quite possessed in the same way. However, while it's natural that in a game this size there are bound to be holes, in the case of AC3 the holes are large. Most of its boils down to the repetitive nature of the gameplay, making for a bloated experience even though the story itself feels rushed and half-baked by its end. Ubisoft have simultaneously inspired as much disappointment as they have awe.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2014 7:40 PM BST

Hitman Absolution (PS3)
Hitman Absolution (PS3)
Price: £9.98

55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfection ... at a price, 23 Nov. 2012
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Perhaps the defining characteristic of the Hitman series was its flawed genius. Clunky gameplay and a plethora of bugs were offset by novel originality and an atmospheric sandbox world. In `Hitman: Absolution', IO Interactive have perfected the formula albeit at a price.

First off, the perfection: never before has Agent 47 been so charged with menace. What's more, you feel like a killer, a professional whose trade is artful murder. This has been pulled off in a couple of ways. First, IO have brought a physicality to 47 which was missing from the previous games and translates into every kill. Second, enemies can be taken down with far greater flexibility - no more sneaking up behind them at just the right moment only to somehow miss with your garrotte. Third, the shooting system is far more innovative. The new `instinct' system - which allows 47 to blend into his surroundings and monitor his foes - also allows `point shooting': i.e. stopping time to tag your targets before effortlessly taking them down in one deadly sweep. For diehards, this may be cheating, but its availability is limited and, besides, it's by no means forced upon you, acting as a cool flourish rather than a central gameplay mechanic.

However, there's a price to this: the free form sandbox gameplay in the previous games hasn't been left intact. Likely to make room for a smoother world with fewer bugs, IO have streamlined levels. The upshot of this is that the world is more economical, the gameplay richer somehow. But the structure is more linear and the settings themselves chronologically compartmentalised into sections. Generally speaking, there's just one main path through each level, with few detours - and stealth is a constant must as certain enemies will see through disguises. At no point are you being forced along. Levels focused on taking down a target have numerous approaches that can be taken, and, unless you want to go Rambo, patience is a must, just as before. But the overall feeling is that although the levels are large, their compartmentalisation makes them less complex. A mistake in one section won't affect the rest of the level, which sucks out some of the fun for perfectionists and diehards who enjoy balancing the consequences. It's much easier in this respect.

But the package IO Interactive have offered up is probably their best-rounded and it feels like a lot of love has gone into it. Although the story is simple, the characters are the best yet; the guns are incredibly satisfying to use; the environments are as atmospheric as ever; and the music doesn't suffer from the absence of the series' trademark composer, Jesper Kyd. The game has been described elsewhere as Lynchian - something which is very true, the elements at play here derivative of an Americana that is dark, morbid and surreal.

`Absolution' isn't flawed in the same way that its predecessors were. The perfected gameplay and streamlined structure marks a radical step in a new direction for the series. Hopefully, later instalments will keep the new gameplay system and bring back some of the freeform sandbox complexity (minus the bugs), but for now, the Hitman experience isn't going to get much better than this.
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The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History, 1848-1938
The Austrian Mind: An Intellectual and Social History, 1848-1938
by William M. Johnston
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.68

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A global inheritance explored, 21 Sept. 2012
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By 1941, the states that had formerly made up the Habsburg Empire - Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bosnia, Croatia and parts of Italy, Poland and Ukraine - had submitted to the spectre of fascism. Many of these states submitted willingly. Thus the death knell of this cultural and intellectual centre of the world sounded.

Seventy years have passed since, and although many are still familiar with the writings of giants such as Freud, Kafka and Schumpeter, the world from which they evolved has largely been forgotten. After all, the Habsburg Empire, although a bureaucratic autocracy, was culturally liberal. German may have been the official language, and Catholicism the official religion, but cultural, religious and linguistic autonomy was largely guarded by the establishment. Cities such as Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Lviv became melting pots of culture, race and thought.

This period may today be eulogised in local museums, but the plethora of ideas that flowed from it have survived, taking root in modern society by way of osmosis following the racial and cultural displacement set in motion by fascism. Besides the influence of the empire's literary, musical and artistic scenes, philosophy, aesthetics, economics, sociology, psychology, spiritualism, physics, law, political theory and language were all disciplines revolutionised by the thinkers of this time and place. The United States were perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this inheritance: for better or for worse, its cinematic, academic and economic legacy wouldn't be the same without it.

William Johnston doesn't catalogue these ideas so much as he uses them to chart the complex psychology of 'the Austrian Mind'. He considers how abstract ideas can become embedded in the collective subconscious of society, and permeate the outlook of the average citizen. His analysis makes it easy to identify the relations between artists and thinkers whose work superficially may have nothing in common. Marcionism, for example - the broad movement from which Kafka's writings emerged - was greatly influenced by disillusionment in the age-old Leibnizian doctrine, which posited that harmony is the default position of the fundamental elements underlying the world. In Prague, where the imperial bureaucracy ruled with chronic inefficiency from afar, uncertainty reigned, a disharmony perpetuated by the linguistic conflicts between the Germans and Czechs. All of this bled through into Kafka's angst-ridden works.

The defining feature of the Habsburg cultural scene was that it was constrained by the lack of political freedoms in the empire. Ideas were abstract - but their influence was so great that life imitated art as much as vice versa. Indeed, Johnston's application of disparate, abstract ideas to reality, and his analysis of how new ideas evolved from that reality, makes for rewarding reading. The neuroses which plagued the empire's citizens - and the Viennese to this day, especially as regards their morbid relationship with death - become so much clearer.

This isn't a forbidding work, however, and it's easy to dip into. For each thinker, Johnston provides a short biography, considering the influences that shaped the theories that he subsequently summarises. Although lucid, Johnston's summaries of the theories themselves are by no means definitive or even comprehensive - but they provide decent starting points for understanding the broader ideas of specific thinkers.

'The Austrian Mind' itself is more a consideration of the intellectual influences that contributed to the melding of a cultural identity that is beset by paradoxes and contradictions. In 1938, Austrians may have concluded that they were German and culturally conservative, but the cultural achievements consistently churned out since the collapse of the Metternich dictatorship in 1848 proved in equal measure that to be `Austrian' is to be cosmopolitan, liberal and progressive - if not a little too cynical and dry-witted for revolution.

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