Tag Archives: James Michael Parry

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Review | Film

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Superhero films have had a hard time growing up. For years they weren’t taken seriously in the industry or by the mainstream film audience since they were just silly little stories ‘just for kids’ or just a load of action with no substance.

Now, in 2016, it’s been 23 years since Batman first hit the big screen (34 years for Superman) – and six years since Marvel kicked the industry to new heights, and demanded attention, with Iron Man in 2008 – so you’d think that if any two superheroes could show how far we’d come, it would be Batman and Superman.

Unfortunately, this film does not complete that mission.

From the outset, there’s plenty to be excited about with this film, and really many of its elements work really well, it’s just the overall experience which doesn’t quite meet expectations.

Taking up the cape and cowl from Christian Bale as Batman is Ben Affleck, an actor (and accomplished director) who has had a difficult past with superhero films but restores faith quickly here by giving the audience a character they can genuinely sympathise with.

Batfleck isn’t rampaging the city as some sort of wish-fulfillment, but because he is adamant that Superman is a risk to humanity and must be stopped, following the destruction of much of Metropolis in Man of Steel.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Superman on the other hand (played by a permanently scowling Henry Cavill), is still trying to find his feet after taking up his cape, and is struggling to understand everyone’s resentment, fear and even worship of him.

In many ways, if the main cast had stopped there, the film might have felt more focused and effective, but since DC grows increasingly jealous of Marvel’s extended universe, it’s decided to kick-start it by throwing everything it has into this film.

Enter Wonder Woman, who is fantastically realised by Gal Gadot, and acts as an interesting element in Batman’s investigations before turning up for the film’s climax. As exciting a character as she is, and she leaves us wanting more, it’s difficult to say she is essential to telling this story.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeThe villain of the piece is Lex Luthor (Jr., which immediately feels like a bit of a cop out excuse to make the character more edgy and set him apart from his predecessors), played by Jesse Eisenberg. In many ways there are some interesting ideas being thrown around with Luthor, but in the end his manor doesn’t feel like it has enough darkness behind it, bringing up memories of Jim Carey’s The Riddler when it would have been more impactful to have the character turn in a heartbeat from slightly quirky to outright sinister and malicious.

Louis Lane seems to exist purely to flip between being a damsel in distress to an irritatingly stereotypical love interest, responsible for not only the film’s catalyst but a horribly underdeveloped love storyline with Clark Kent. Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is really the only member of the supporting cast who earns his place in the film, and feels tragically under-used.

The film’s strongest suit is the action and spectacle, which sees some expertly choreographed Batman fights in particular, and the titular battle between DC’s two mightiest heroes is worth waiting for – though its resolution is the somewhat anti-climactic and obvious realisation that both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent’s mothers have the same first name…

The biggest indication of where the film goes off the rails, apart from struggling to make time to introduce new characters for The Justice League films, which ended up being more arbitrary than a huge distraction, is that the tone is all over the place.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN

Fundamentally, Batman and Superman don’t have vastly opposed philosophies as the film tries to make out, and jumping from Batman’s grit, to Superman’s inner turmoil, to Lex Luthor’s evil villain stereotyping just feels like it can’t decide what it wants to be.

What may have been stronger, is if the film had stuck with Batman’s perspective on events, which is set up extremely well at the beginning of the film, and followed that through, only revealing Superman’s side of the story when Batman learns about it, meaning the entire conflict had a grounded, specific set of eyes which the audience is supposed to see everything from.

While there is plenty this film didn’t quite get right, it is still definitely worth seeing, but if you are expecting a film to make you seriously rethink your love of The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, then you needn’t worry.

Now the dawn of the justice league beckons, but not on the back of a film DC fans need, or deserve.

Rating: 3/5

The Theory of Everything | Review | Film

The Theory of EverythingThe universe is a fairly large thing to fit into a film. Filled with sciencey mumbo-jumbo or not, it’s difficult to escape the fact that Stephen Hawking is one of the most respected and accomplished scientists Britain has to offer, but his story is not an easy one.

The Theory of Everything PosterDespite the headline drama of Hawking being struck with motor neurone disease, the real story is the relationships he had, which is hardly a surprise given the film itself is based on his wife’s autobiography rather than a dusty old textbook.

Leading man Eddie Redmayne completely loses himself in the character of Hawking, who is by no means exaggerated on screen, genuinely being in equal parts just as eccentric and brilliant in real life. It’s not only Redmayne’s physical transformation, as Hawking’s disease takes hold, which is stunning, but the intensity and sensitivity he shows in even the early stages, establishing a character the audience can feel like they know. His Golden Globes win is surely a sign of future award successes to come.

Good to see some familiar yet often overlooked faces in the supporting cast too, such as Game of Thrones and Doctor Who alum Harry Lloyd, who makes a suitably preppy turn as Hawking’s school chum Brian, and Harry Potter’s David Thewlis (that’s Lupin to you Pot-heads) commands respect as Professor Sciama.

It’s Felicity Jones though, who plays Hawking’s wife Jane, who you really feel for. To find yourself in her shoes could only be the most bittersweet of circumstances: falling in love with an adorable genius, only to watch him slowly waste away, despite his mind staying as sharp as ever.

The film follows Hawking from his university days through some of his greatest discoveries
The film follows Hawking from his university days through some of his greatest discoveries

No one would find such a situation a walk in the park, and the film does a good job of presenting the story without taking sides or casting judgement.

Much like The Imitation Game (an almost equally excellent journey), The Theory of Everything’s pace is the area most likely to make some attention’s drift, with a run time of just over two hours and slowing down at a few points, but really it would be unfair to mark down a filmmaking team giving such delicate moments a fair airing.

The important role of Hawking's family is central to the film
The important role of Hawking’s family is central to the film

Director James Marsh crafts his audience’s experience to the smallest detail, jumping you between the shoes of both Stephen and Jane, and ramping up the emotional impact gradually, almost without you noticing, until one critical dream sequence sees Hawking rise from his chair, as if cured, and scrape the knife across your heartstrings with expert care.

The film leaves you with an unshakable feeling of both consideration and inspiration, just as you imagine the man himself would approve of – not putting himself on a pedestal nor gushing with pity or undue tears. No amount of science can explain the impact such a against-all-odds tale can have.

Rating: 5/5

Game of Thrones: Episode 1 – Iron From Ice | Review | Gaming

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game SeriesPeople die. One fact anyone familiar with either the book or TV adaptations of Game of Thrones will already know. The real trick is, can a game trick you into caring about its characters as much as the ones fans of the show, in particular, know and love?

An episodic game, very much brought into the mainstream by Telltale themselves, this incarnation of Game of Thrones is very much part of the world, with the familiar characters (even voiced by their respective actors on the show) being positioned on the edges of its central narrative, rather than relying on them.

Ramsey Snow (or Bolton, as he becomes in Series 4 of the show at least) is a definite highlight, with Iwan Rheon relishing every syllable of his utterly contemptible character, and even new characters managing to make a good first impression.

Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun
Ramsey Snow has some fun, horrible horrible fun

Later episodes may dictate how significant some characters can be, since Telltale’s talent for tailoring the path of story to every player’s decisions is present and correct, but based solely on the opening chapter the narrative, and its protagonists, are interesting and diverse enough to leave us wanting more.

In action scenes the style creaks a little, with the slow motion quick-move-the-cursor moments proving frustrating at times when you ask yourself things like “Is he really only going to swing that sword twice?” Whether Telltale can keep the variety going through the rest of the series remains to be seen.

In all an ideal first stab, especially for fans, with plenty more blood left to spill.

James Michael Parry

Interstellar | Review | Film

Interstellar

Interstellar is not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so get that out of your head right now. Christopher Nolan’s space-bound, more than featured length epic certainly shares some DNA with Kubrick’s classic, but in reality what you get is something quite different.

Interstellar poster

One similarity is that you can explain the basic premise without telling you much about the film at all. In a nutshell, Interstellar follows Cooper, a former pilot and engineer who exists in an age when the human race is grinding to a halt as it is running out of food. Despite culture debunking the Apollo moon landing as a hoax, to focus people on solving the problems on their doorstep instead of looking to the stars, in the end it is the stars which present the only real chance of saving humanity.

This time it’s personal

Coop's family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times
Coop’s family and their battle with blight on their crops feels close to home at times

Cooper’s own journey, and his relationship with his family is the real story though, with sci-fi merely providing the crisis to put things under pressure. Matthew McConaughey, who plays Coop, is very much the star here, delivering a very relatable and likeable performance in what was a critical role to sell the concept of the story to the audience.

The supporting cast keeps going and going, with the introduction of each new character bringing another “Oh it’s that guy” moment, though this is by no means a bad thing. Jon Lithgow and female lead Anne Hathaway stand out as the strongest performances, as the former fulfills a Jiminy Cricket-type role to Coop before he leaves Earth, while the latter jumps between believing in science and love as the increasingly head-scratching plot progresses.

Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper
Matthew McConaughey drives the film as engineer turned astronaut Cooper

From Nolan past films you may already have an idea what to expect here, leaving the somewhat more obvious Dark Knight Trilogy to one side, there’s always a cerebral element to his films, particularly Inception. You can almost watch the film in two ways: trying to make sense of the science and sci-fi or taking each thing as it comes and focusing on the human element. Nolan does a good job of balancing the two, meaning there is enough to keep a wider range of film fans engaged.

Despite Nolan’s experience though, the final act does require a bit more brain power and could easily lose some, particularly the open-to-interpretation final shot. Not thinking about it all too much is the best way to enjoy it, although a lot of the science is actually fact, even if it is baffling. The perceptive may pick something up early on which reveals more about the finale than Nolan may have intended.

Style or substance?

Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not
Without a doubt the film is a visual feast more often than not

Visually the film certainly lives up to the recent depictions of space, particularly Gravity – in fact the film could be described as a more action-packed version of that very film in some ways, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The depiction of the wormhole, which provides the celestial doorway to far-flung planets, and the black hold found on its far side are particularly stunning, and give you a real sense of scale.

As usual, the silent depiction of space itself (due to it being a vacuum) is incredibly striking, and adds another dimension to some of the action set pieces. The score too does a lot to add to the atmosphere too, with Hans Zimmer stepping away from the somewhat distinctive sound of the past few Nolan films to something more soft and quite haunting in places.

Providing you have the patience for a three-hour film, which can slow down at a couple of points, but not quite enough to lose your attention, then Interstellar is an impressive film with a good sense of scale and solid characters. That said, it won’t set your world on fire, particularly is Nolan’s style of filmmaking has struck a nerve in the past. Much like Gravity it’s a film worth watching for any film fan but only the committed will jump in again to unpick it’s layers.

Rating: 3/5

James Michael Parry

What’s next for Doctor Who? | Opinion | TV

Doctor WhoWith series 8 of Doctor Who all wrapped up, where can (and should) the relentless time traveller go next? The past? The future? Gallifrey? Despite the rapid wrap-up we got in Death in Heaven The Doctor has left us with many unanswered questions.

Meet the new guy

Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through
Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through

Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor has proved himself a triumph, as we mulled over towards the beginning of the series, but it hasn’t yet felt like he’s had a chance to get his teeth into anything.

Grand promises were made in Deep Breath, such as doing something about all those mistakes, and yet here we are without many of them fulfilled. The question of whether The Doctor is a good man was sort of answered with a loud and excitable ‘no’, but where’s Gallifrey? Where’s Missy now (since she clearly didn’t die, what do you take us for)?

The quest for Gallifrey has to feature in series 9, it was such a fundamental part of the 50th Anniversary Special and we’ve barely heard a whisper about it since. Can we expect to see Timelords return in force next series? Perhaps there would be some crimes to answer for? There have certainly been some interesting Timelord storylines in the classic series at least, and only a flutter of them so far in new Who.

Imagine the costume possibilities at the very least. The elaborate headdresses and colour were the inspiration for the Timelord language as it appears in new Who, so it would be nice to see some of that in context.

To seek out new life and new civilisations

New monsters were fairly few and far between in series 8, we want more
New monsters were fairly few and far between in series 8, we want more

There’s no doubt The Master will return in some form. The portrayal this series was short and sweet, and left us wanting more. The story of an unseen evil has recurred in the modern series a few times, as far back as the 2005 series, so perhaps it’s time to be a bit more overt with it all. We’ve been flirting with Missy for series 8, let her take us on a merry dance through series 9.

What other monsters could The Doctor encounter though? A few of the old favourites have had one too many outings recently (Cybermen in the finale were hardly necessary, at least they were part of the story in Dark Water), so perhaps there are other classic monsters they could bring back, but really we want something new, something you couldn’t do 50 years ago, something exciting and most of all – not terrible CGI. Seriously, The Mill, you’re good, but you can do better with some of these things, there’s a pretty lifelike penguin in the John Lewis ad for goodness sake!

Anywhere, anywhen, anyhow…

The ever decreasing Tardis was a great idea to shake things up
The ever decreasing Tardis was a great idea to shake things up

As for time periods, the Victorian era has been getting a bit worn lately as well, there’s plenty of other exciting times and places in history we could explore. What about going right back to primitive Earth? Could be interesting, if not done cringeworthingly badly, so perhaps the Tudors would be more fun? Or revolutionary France? Just because Assassin’s Creed has been there doesn’t mean it’s off limits.

The future is always endless and expansive of course, perhaps visiting some more planets is a bit optimistic – even on Doctor Who‘s budget – but we’d settle for some more alien locations than just ‘London with a few trees in it’, and don’t think you can get away with another industrial-type space station or ship either, we’re wise to that now. Space itself is interesting enough in reality, surely there’s some things out there which we could draw in, a comet is a bit obvious, and Kill The Moon sort of went there, but perhaps an asteroid field or something could work, so long as you can avoid Millenium Falcon-killing creatures of course.

Not all fun and games

Capaldi's spoon vs sword fight from Robots of Sherwood was a particular highlight of series 8
Capaldi’s spoon vs sword fight from Robots of Sherwood was a particular highlight of series 8

The biggest journey really is The Doctor himself. It sort of felt like he was in the passenger seat at times this series, and fair enough you could say it’s his first season. But Tennant was there fighting with a sword in his first episode, no one could suggest he didn’t take charge of that particular situation, but Capaldi’s Doctor seems to have stumbled to his feet in the presence of an increasingly demanding companion who in many ways seems to have outgrown him, and others just wishes for the good old days of Smith’s Doctor.

Tonally, the show had a bit of a reset with this series, and it could do with some of the fun of the Tenth (and even Eleventh) Doctor to spice things up a bit. Even grumpy old Nine had his moments (“Just this once Rose, everybody lives!”) This is not a criticism of Capaldi though, who has worn the role on his sleeve and convincingly, he just needs to be given more meaty drama to get to grips with, in a situation not where he is swooping in and saving the day perhaps, since we know The Doctor doesn’t think of himself that way, now less so than ever, but making those difficult decisions, selflessly, when no one else could.

In all the show is as strong now as it has been at any point through the Moffat era, and really whether you are enjoying things depends on whether you like his style or not. If you gave series 7 a miss because it was all getting a bit silly and unnecessarily complicated, then reconsider for 8. The standalone episodes made a big difference to how watchable the show is, particularly out of order or in chunks, and there’s a lot to like about Capaldi even if Clara rubs you up the wrong way. The future for Doctor Who now depends on whether the show can continue to innovate and reinvent itself as readily as its titular hero, and from past experience we can at least say it’s possible.

James Michael Parry

Gone Girl | Review | Film

Gone GirlGone GirlThey always say marriage is about compromise, but when your other half tries to kill you, it’s often hard to find the middle ground. From the first moments of Gone Girl, you can tell this film is something a bit different to what expected. You find yourself saying: “Did he really say that? That can’t be what he meant, can it?”

Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a man having a really bad time when his wife is taken…sorry, gone…one morning when he returns from his bar (imaginatively known as ‘The Bar). What has actually happened is a mystery, which unravels unexpectedly throughout the film. To say that the film contains a twist might be considered a twist for most films, but in this case, there are so many twists and turns you’ll be amazed that you haven’t ended got a headache.

…Because I’m Bat-fleck

Gone Girl
The grin on Neil Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) turns out to be bad for the cameras

Affleck brings the feeling in this film, in a role which shows a lot of emotional depth – admittedly already evidenced by his excellent work in films such as Argo – which gives a lot of hope for his turn as The Caped Crusader in Batman vs Superman next year. Watching the story unfold in front of you through Affleck’s eyes just forces you to route for him, even if his character might not be as straightforward as your first impression might have thought.

Female lead Rosamund Pike as wife Amy is just as complex a portrayal as Mr Affleck, although some male viewers might find it hard to relate to her just because of how strongly her gender runs through her character – you don’t feel as though if the genders of the two leads were reversed that the film would have unfolded in the same way.

Deface-book

Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne...but is she still alive?
Rosamund Pike is Amy Dunne…but is she still alive?

If director David Fincher had a word in mind when he was directing this film, it must have been ‘tension’. The film is dripping with it, so much so that you may not have any fingers left by the time the credits roll. Like The Social Network before it, Fincher’s understanding of the subtleties of close personal relationships shine through here, causing no surprise at all when the characters interact naturally together.

Part of the credit for that must go to screenwriter and author of the original book Gillian Flynn, who’s tale ups the ante at every stage as we delver deeper into its characters with each revelation. Even Desi Collings, the most misunderstood character of the piece, who Neil Patrick Harris gives you no choice but to feel sorry for, is written sharply enough to draw blood, despite a relatively short span on screen.

Bite the hand that feeds

A picture can make the past look perfect
A picture can make the past look perfect

As usual, Fincher’s musical meastros Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross bring the rich soundtrack which set the stage, and highten the uneasiness of the characters on multiple occasions. The visuals by comparison are generally low-key, with straightforward production and set design keeping the film grounded despite the fluctuations of its plot, though occasionally there is effects work which makes you stop dead and then squirm in your seat.

There’s a strong feeling of balance with this film. Let things slip too far into the surreal and you could lose your audience, but the way it is knotted together by Fincher (often with stubborn, ugly knots which can’t be unravelled) makes it strangely compelling viewing. More than once there is a moment where you feel like the story could finish, but then the film steps up a gear to push the audience even closer to the edge.

There might not be a right time or a right place to take in the story without drawing comparisons to your own life, but in truth this just emphasises what a strong example of the medium the film is. Not one for the faint-hearted, but undeniably a quality experience.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Maroon 5 and The Script – V and No Sound Without Silence | Double album review | Music

The Script and Maroon 5 double album reviewIt’s not every day new albums come out which you actually care about. Unfortunately there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to ramble about them all (far less than usual actually, sorry about that lone fan), and so slamming two together in what could be described as, but isn’t really, a head-to-head seemed like a fun option.

The reason Maroon 5 and The Script together sit together nicely is because they are bands in similar areas of the industry (though the Maroon 5 boys have a few more years and albums under their belt), but they are different enough to listen to back to back.

Maroon 5 – V

Maroon 5 - VWith their fifth album – however did you guess… – the boys have taken the dancier sound from Overexposed and refined it, bringing a bit more instrumentation back in as well as using more of their layered vocals from Adam Levine which made Songs About Jane stand out.

Opener and lead single Maps is a perfect blend of the band’s catchy melodies and memorable guitar style. There aren’t many bands who can get away with repetition, even in a clearly pop-focused single, but Maroon 5 are excellent at taking a simple idea and elaborating on it through a song, driving it forward.

Animals continues the theme in style, before It Was Always You mellows things out a little, dialling up the dance beats a notch.

Levine’s vocals contain some of the highest notes we’ve heard and his various grunts and oohs build to screeches as the music swells, but in a way which refuses to step over the line into a piercing noise, similar to how Michael Jackson got away with it on many tracks.

Maroon 5 - VWith a mixture of ballads with a beat and catchy numbers, the rest of the album plays out much as you might expect, with the odd 80s nod in the synth drums. It’s a collection of songs that hangs together well without any sticking out too far, but it may prove too middle-of-the-road for some as a result.

No doubt there are top ten hits here waiting to be unleashed (so many in fact, that you could easily make a sweepstake out of it), but it’s only a small step from Overexposed compared to where the band began the consistency has improved but undoubtedly the edginess that made them most endearing when they crashed onto the scene has dulled slightly.

That said there’s an awful lot to enjoy on this album, particularly for crowd singalong moments, and where Overexposed dragged its heels in the middle and became uninspiring, V never does.

The Script – No Sound Without Silence

The Script - No Sound Without SilenceThe fourth album from the Irish pop-rockers is a similar continuation on a theme, with the catchiness and excitement of #3 taken up a notch with lead single Superheroes. First track No Good In Goodbye has some excellent plays on words, including “Where’s the us in trust gone?” and “Can’t take the ache from heartbreak”, cementing the band’s position of one of the best lyrical groups in the charts.

The sound overall has good mix of upbeat and more reflective songs, far more laid back than V certainly, but you do find yourself longing for one more singalong classic along the lines of Breakeven or The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.

There are influences here of other bands like Coldplay, Bastille and even The 1975, but never more significant than the odd moment.

The themes of the songs are still quite personal, but generally more aspirational and uplifting then they have been in the past. The Energy Never Dies and It’s Not For You both insist that you don’t have to take the situation you’ve ended up in and leave it at that, instead you can at the very least choose your attitude to it.

The Script - No Sound Without SilenceMusically the band’s use of piano is much more natural this time, but otherwise it’s hard to find many stand out moments, it’s more just that the entire mix – particularly the interplay of vocals between all three of the brand members – is really impressive and at several moments really makes the tracks something special, to the extent that you can feel the odd goosebump.

It might not have as much ammo for the charts as previous efforts but the songs are well crafted and fit together beautifully, creating an album you can just sit back and relax to or jump around the room with here and there.

In short, both these albums deserve your attention, do yourself a favour and at least pick, but, if you know what’s good for you, choose both.

James Michael Parry

My week with Destiny | Review | Gaming

DestinyTruth be told, I haven’t played enough of Destiny to give it a traditional review. Not just because it is a game with a lot of different elements, but because the best experience of the game is the one you make yourself. Much like I imagine is the appeal of Skyrim, your memorable moments in Destiny are just as likely to be pottering about on the surface of the Moon as they are tackling a tricky Strike mission (the Raids, at the time of writing, are still to come).

The best is yet to come

Destiny
Competitive multiplayer in The Crucible is a nice addition, but nothing to write home about.

Destiny is definitely a game, that much we can be sure, a computer game even (or video game, if you want to be all American about it…), but past that it can fall into half a dozen specific genres of game – FPS, RPG, MMO…the acronyms go on and on.

The other thing we can definitely say is that it is good fun. Even those who take exception to the fact that the story is light touch generally concede that the gameplay has some fun bits in it – however short-lived or repetitive they turn out to be, and there’s potential for a lot more from a title which is supposedly designed as a franchise to be expanded over the next decade.

The game I find easiest to compare Destiny to is Sega Dreamcast classic Phantasy Star Online (no, not Final Fantasy, different thing, trust me). Comparing the two games, the amount of content available is a massive step forward, particularly considering PSO required a hunter’s licence to play (about £5 a month) and initially was around when internet speeds were cripplingly limited by modern standards – it’s a surprise the game ran at all.

Fast forward to the world of Destiny and persistent online play is a completely different kettle of fish, but that said it is still a kettle and they are still fish at the end of the day. Failure to ‘get over’ the fact that this game is being made Bungie’s way and no one else’s is essential. That’s not to say that they won’t respond to player feedback – they already have in many areas, such as the questionable voice acting from Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage – but changes which are made will be to improve the experience for the gamer rather than change things fundamentally.

The aforementioned Raids for example, an ultra-hard game mode which is only unlocked once you have finished basic ranking and got some snazzy gear, requires a party of six friends to complete and that will always be the case. There is matchmaking in Strikes, the Raid’s younger brother, but we are definitely expecting something altogether more complex from Raids, a bit of depth to missions, which at present tend to involve a lot of killing things and waiting for Dinklage to scan and/or hack things.

We need a hero

Perhaps not legend, but your character is at least your own
Perhaps not legend, but your character is at least your own

The central excitement of the game might come from frolicking about with others, but it’s the gear and levelling up which will keep you coming back for more. Although the initial level cap is a mere 20, light even by PSO standards, levelling continues above that by acquiring ‘motes of light’ which are derived from equipping rare items and other general looting, which forces you to play the game very differently, and, according to Bungie, it’s where the game really begins.

As I sit on the cusp of level 20, with all the excitement just around the corner, I still don’t feel like I’ve really got to the bottom of what the game is all about. I’ve still got a planet to visit (Mars), but otherwise the areas themselves are discovered, and explored to varying degrees. There are three (or so) alien races, who have various different monsters and creatures up their sleeve (or robots in the case of the Vex), and three classes to choose from (with two subclasses each) and three races to play as within that.

Of course, for the sake of the (admittedly vague and fairly limited) story, you ARE human. My Awoken Male Warlock (race, gender and class respectively) seemed to get very confused when the story led him to visit the Awoken Queen and he had lots of questions such as ‘Where do they come from?’, which you would expect he might know…

Regardless the prospect of replaying as a different class at least is appealing, since different classes and subclasses (which can be changed at any time) do have a different playstyle.

The game certainly isn’t for everyone, however much Bungie would like it to be, and for every soaring climax of the fantastic soundtrack there’s a niggle that crops up, but it doesn’t stop it being a thoroughly enjoyable with lots to do and discover. Become legend? Perhaps not, but, at the very least, it’s memorable.

James Michael Parry

Five reasons to get back into Doctor Who | Opinion | Television

Doctor Who series 8You’ll have heard that Doctor Who is back, that there’s a new guy holding the sonic screwdriver and scampering about in the TARDIS, but perhaps you haven’t managed to watch any of the new episodes just yet. “He’s a bit old,” you might say. “I liked David Tennant for a while but then the stories got all angsty and romantically awkward…”

As a big fan myself, I can admit that the series has its ups and downs, just like anything on TV (except some of the top quality shows on Netflix which are near flawless), but whether you enjoy Doctor Who or not comes down to one thing – suspension of disbelief.

Letting yourself be absorbed into that world is crucial to enjoying it, as you have to remember that this is a children’s show after all, aimed first and foremost at 10-12 year old boys (though probably any youngsters are in the cross-hairs these days).

So, without further ado, This Is Entertainment presents five reasons you should boot up BBC iPlayer (or, in fact, most of your favourite on-demand streaming services) and begin your time travel adventure once again.

The companion isn’t just a damsel in distress

Jenna Coleman has really brought her companion's character forward this series
Jenna Coleman has really brought her companion’s character forward this series

Ever since Doctor Who came back in 2005, the companions have been the audience’s window to the Whoniverse more than ever before, meaning, more often than not if you don’t like the companion, you don’t like the show.

Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald, who is the current hanger-on, has managed to really add depth to her character this series. Gone is the slightly painful and teenagery love angle and Clara is finally a force to be reckoned with, standing up for herself, getting out of trouble without the Doctor needing to swoop in and even telling the Doctor off when he gets a bit over-excited, like a hyperactive dog getting a tap on the nose with a copy of The Sunday Times.

There’s still a lot more developing which can be done, and the seeds of a new romantic entanglement have already been sewn, but the early signs look good, and at least a little more believable than they were before. Plus the fact that her everywoman identity isn’t central to the plot this series helps take some of the pressure off as well.

The Daleks are scarier than ever

Outstanding retro poster from designer Stuart Manning (Radio Times)
Outstanding retro poster from designer Stuart Manning (Radio Times)

OK OK, so some people find Daleks scary, others don’t, and certainly this series isn’t out to change your mind if you’re dead set against it, but Episode 2 story Into The Dalek is a really interesting take on ‘a Dalek episiode’ which effectively calls back to the end of 2005 series 1 – the fact that the Doctor would make a good Dalek.

For all our relating to the companion in the show, we really all aspire to be the Doctor himself, meaning any suggestion that he might not be a good man makes us feel uneasy. It’s times like that that the show uses its emotional resonance to its fullest effect however, making us question the morality of our hero.

Already this series the Doctor has dealt some hefty emotional blows to Clara and even abandoned her in a helpless situation – this is not something you’d expect from a hero.

In meeting broken Dalek ‘Rusty’, the Doctor’s tendency to want to fix and control everything around him gets the better of him and, inevitably, it costs lives. The Dalek voice, provided by show veteran Nicolas Briggs, is definitely silly, but nonetheless still menacing, particularly when the things he says really hammer home how dark the Doctor really is.

Someone remembered that fun is fun

The TARDIS takes an arrow in Robot of Sherwood
The TARDIS takes an arrow in Robot of Sherwood

Heavy storylines are all well and good, but some of the most memorable moments in the past few years have been comedy-based rather than drama, such as Matt Smith and David Tennant’s screwdriver standoff (complete with Doctor inspecting glasses) or Smith attempting to fend off the Daleks with a jammy doger.

This series might have been described as more dark, which it probably is, but there also seems to be an injection of much needed fun into proceedings after some heavy storylines at the end of Matt Smith’s run.

Robot of Sherwood portrays this most outwardly, but each episode so far has built in a strong element of comedy, much of which comes from Capaldi himself – swordfighting with a spoon is probably my favourite idea so far.

Of course it isn’t all about comedy, but when you’re sitting down with the family on a Saturday night for some entertainment you want something which is fun and you don’t necessarily wangt to have to pay attention to every tiny detail to get it, which leads neatly on to…

You don’t need to watch every episode to ‘get it’

The new titles are a bit different but they grow on you
The new titles are a bit different but they grow on you

In series 6 and 7 things got a bit complicated, let’s be honest. Series 5’s cracks in the wall (which admittedly reappeared later) were a fairly consistent thread running through that series, and another great example of Steven Moffat taking something everyday from his children’s childhood (i.e. a crack on the wall) and making it something to be really afraid of, a formula Moffat returns to for Listen.

The reason 6 and particularly 7 with its ill-advised mid-series break struggled is because there were too many long-running plot threads and the audience couldn’t quite keep their head around what was going on. The beginning of 7 part 2 is the biggest example of that in that it’s a struggle to remember why our heroes are on the run, let alone why they are in random different parts of America.

The stories for this series are far more self-contained, and so it makes the show far easier to dip in and out of. Obviously you should already be religiously tuning in to every episode, but if you’ve made it this far down then you either are already and are just enjoying my ramblings, or you like the show enough to be engaged with it but it can occasionally have problems holding your attention.

Already in the series we have had an introduction, a dark episode and a light episode, plus there’s been the customary introduction of a figure from history – although this time around it is the (possibly) fictional Robin Hood. There’s plenty of scope to delve deeper into the characters as the series goes on, but so far the balance between action and reflection has been spot on.

Peter Capaldi is just fantastic

Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through
Capaldi wrote fan scripts and letters to the show as a child, and his passion and love for the show shines through

For series 8, a new doctor provides a clean slate. Personally I have a lot of love for Matt Smith (as if you needed to ask) but Peter Capaldi brings the gravitas which not only comes with age – a fact which is played on nicely in the show – but also just his manner in the part. Capaldi’s long-term love affair with the show itself is well documented, and the passion he has for the role is already showing through strongly after only a couple of episodes.

The first episode is always a rag-tag of different emotions and feelings as the Doctor as a character finds his feed after changing every cell in his body by regenerating (sounds painful…). The initial quips – “Who invented this room?! It doesn’t make any sense; it’s only got a bed in it!” – give way to a realisation that The Doctor isn’t sure who he is, setting the tone of self-discovery for this series and leading to a line of comparisons between The Doctor and other characters.

Capaldi sells this instantly, unashamedly calling out things as silly or ridiculous, just as the audience might when faces with the sort of fantastical which is bread and butter for The Doctor. Due to his love of the show, Capaldi fits into both the stylish costume and mannerisms of his doctor quickly, making the character equal parts likeable, mad and dangerous.

There’s always the next story to look to with Doctor Who, but the series has made a strong start (not least for wisely self-containing the introduction in a near feature-length opener) and stands to get better and better as it continues. Here’s hoping the payoff at the end matches our collective anticipation.

James Michael Parry

Five things you should already know about Gamescom | Opinion | Gaming

Gamescom 2014By now you may have heard that a European games conference took place this week, but if you haven’t had time to catch up on everything, here are the key facts.

1) Microsoft finally ‘beat’ Sony

Xbox One Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Edition
The 1TB hard drive with this custom console will be the draw for those who to shop digitally

They love to say it isn’t a competition and pat each other on the back (well…Microsoft have paid a few compliments to Sony this year at least…), but really it’s war.

As we approach a year since the latest battle between Sony and Microsoft began – sorry Nintendo, you’re benched – competition is fierce as each console has hit its stride.

MS began their conference strongly with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, including a custom Xbox One console (above), which interestingly is missing Kinect, alluding to one of the many things about where Xbox One is now which differ from day one.

The last few months may have seemed to be backtracking, and they are, but they are also offering a slew of new and exclusive games both in the rest of 2014 and beyond, while Sony’s initial momentum, and impressive initial sales numbers, appear to be slowing.

Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn't as 'indie-ish'
Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn’t as ‘indie-ish’

It’s not quite the tortoise and the hare, a LOT of people have and are buying a PS4, but there’s increasing feeling that the console hasn’t perhaps leapt the industry forward as much as it could have, focusing on power (as usual) rather than innovation.

That could change when Morpheus, Sony’s answer to the imagination-grabbing Oculus Rift, properly launches, but for now the company is focusing on its game streaming service: Playstation Now, as well as system updates and indie games.

The lack of triple-A franchises shown off prompted many to award the win to MS, who, by comparison, filled their presentation to the brim with exclusives and as usual got the multiplatform games out of the way quickly so they could show only exclusive games for the rest of the show.

2) Exclusives = arguments

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft’s latest outing is proving to be the latest argument-bait online

Slightly controversially, Rise of the Tomb Raider (above) was announced as Xbox One exclusive, though unsurprisingly only for a limited time, and there was plenty from the big MS exclusives: Sunset OverdriveForza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The mention of Tomb Raider itself was fairly quick and painless, but it’s been the subject of a lot of internet debate since the event, with some PS gamers feeling scorned for being ‘denied access’ to a franchise they have put time into.

The first game in the series famously made the first PlayStation (while destroying perceptions female protagonists in games for a decade), so you can sort of understand why people are miffed, but are so much anger and tears really justified?

The debate calls back to discussions around the Destiny Beta, which had three extra days on Playstation, not to mention the final game having timed-exclusive DLC.

With Bungie having worked with MS for so long on the  Halo series, it seemed to some entitled people that they deserve to play Bungie’s games forever more, as if they aren’t a business.

The subject of what ‘exclusive’ really means as a term is already blurred as it is, expect further musings on the topic before the end of the year.

3) Watching pirated films is easy

Halo Channel
The Halo Channel is one way MS is bringing its video and gaming content together

A feature which wasn’t present during MS’s conference but did come out during the week was the fact that they are increasing the number of video formats which the Xbox One can play, opening up people’s ripped DVD and Blu-ray collections to be played using the device.

If you’ve downloaded them from the internet (legal or otherwise – for shame!) then you’ll be able to enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa without awkwardly balancing a laptop on top of you or scrambling for the right HDMI cable to plug it into the TV.

Since Xbox was always intended to be the ‘hub’ of the living room this enhancement makes sense, and is supposedly in response to players’ feedback, plus there’s plenty more system updates coming to the One monthly, unlike Sony who have only managed a handful of steps forward with their software.

4) You can’t escape Assassin’s Creed

It's easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good
It’s easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good

Not one, but two games, and lots and lots of trailers now plague the internet in the wake of Gamescom, giving both current and past gen gamers something to brutally kill people in with their hands.

The franchise appears to be drifting apart, not unlike the fancy pirate-y ships which serve as a key mechanic in new announcement: Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Unity, which was announced ahead of E3 earlier in the year, ditches the nautical side completely and focuses instead on co-op play as it’s key USP.

At a total of seven main titles and a handful of handheld and other games, the franchise is reaching the stage where it is at risk of growing stale if it stands still and so it makes sense to pursue to different styles (and largely different markets) with these two games.

Due to its popularity, it isn’t a series which is likely to fade away any time soon.

5) Online multiplayer isn’t going away, but neither is single player

Come September, become Legend (lag permitting...)
Come September, become Legend (lag permitting…)

There’s lots of games coming out in the next year, shocker I know, but people seem to be coming down on one side of the proverbial playstyle fence or the other at the moment.

The fear is that as MMO games begin to gain momentum on consoles, developers won’t spend time developing ‘proper’ single player games.

It’s understandable, since more players mean more money, and we know publishers in particular like money, but is it going to happen? No, no it won’t.

No matter how social you are as a gamer, there’s always times when people feel like being on their own, and gaming has always been one of the safest havens when you are in that mood and because of that passion, single player will continue to be an important part of console experiences for a long while yet.

The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail
The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail

Even if Destiny and The Division are a commercially success, they will never match the renown of something like Skyrim as it has to many stories which people can share and talk about, for Destiny these experiences will be few and far between.

Different people like different things, and gaming now is more diverse than it ever has been, plus technology and innovation has made the escapism you can reach when you are absorbed by an amazing game is second to none.

James Michael Parry