Review 22: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

30691976.jpg

I read Ninefox Gambit again to prepare for this, read the whole thing. All while Raven Stratagem sat on my shelf, taunting me, tempting me to just open it, cast the first book aside and find out where the story goes instead of reminding myself where it had already been. But I finished Ninefox, which meant I could, at long last, dive into the sequel.

Brevet General Kel Cheris’ fleet has been destroyed, and she has bonded with the undead general Shuos Jedao, stripping herself of her faction and taking over another Kel swarm for herself. Only Kel Brezan, a crashhawk and formation breaker, manages to wrench himself from the General’s influence, and seeks to destroy his swarm’s captor once and for all. But is Jedao trying to defend the Hexarchate, or is he putting into motion an even more sinister plan… A betrayal four centuries in the making?

The Good:

One of the main positives of Raven Stratagem, which, as we shall see, is a staple of sci-fi sequels, is the fact that there are many chapters which explore the origins of certain protagonists. These are much more interesting and fun than the muddled nature of some from the first book, offering insight into the background of a character and adding more consistent and grounded lore to the story on the whole. Other than that, honestly, short of flat out copying and pasting the paragraph from my review of Ninefox Gambit praising Ha Lee’s writing style, I have nothing more to say about Raven Stratagem. So… Let’s do just that, shall we? This is going to be a very short paragraph otherwise. Here we go:

“All of the imagery, description, names of the ships and weapons, it’s superb, it really is. It’s just so well-written. I’m going to have to get specific here, so let’s just list some things. The imagination that has been required to come up with all the weapons, ships, factions and imagery throughout is just staggering. Boxmoth troop transports, Cindermoths equipped with Erasure Guns and Dire Cannons, Kel Ashhawks, Threshold Winnowers, it goes on and on. And they never start to get boring, that’s the main thing. So much new weaponry is introduced that drastically turns the tide of battle (and that’s really what this book is about on the whole, so it just adds to the gritty feel) but none of it done cheaply in dull ex machina fashion.”

There! That was easy. But in all seriousness, it’s a problem in and of itself that Raven Stratagem is just consistently good throughout. It becomes sort of… blandly enjoyable. Like a superhero movie, or a dessert that tastes good but is far too big to finish by yourself so you’re left forcing yourself to get through it because you know that even though you feel sick now, it was nice originally so it should be worth it. There are no moments whatsoever that stand out, and whereas with Ninefox I could tell you about Cheris’ duel, the carrion glass flashback sequence, the fungal canister disaster, or the battle with the kaleidoscope bomb. With Raven Stratagem… What happened in this book again?

To be Improved:

Immediately, I actually regretted having read the first book again before picking up this one, because there were many instant discrepancies between this and the ending of Ninefox Gambit. It seems a lot of moments have been tailored for people who decided not to reread the first book so need a little nudging reminder every time something is mentioned. Ah yes, that’s what “lucky unlucky four” is, ah yes, now I remember who the main character is, ah yes, that’s what a boxmoth is. It’s tiresome, and one would think anyone with some semblance of memory wouldn’t need these little prompts. But to go through a more jarring example: Cheris still wears her gloves, despite taking them off in the closing paragraphs of Ninefox Gambit, dramatically stating that she would be Kel no longer. Ooh, scary, but the impact of this is decidedly dulled by the fact that she is now back, once again donning the gloves. To say nothing of the fact that no one is at all surprised to see Captain Cheris alive and well, simply letting her aboard and allowing her to walk straight into the command centre with all her weapons, despite the fact that the entirety of her fleet was just bombed into oblivion. She should be dead and the fact she isn’t should be an immediate cause for concern, yet everyone is hunky-dory about letting an armed captive into the room where all the highest ranking officers are. This is just one example, but it really sticks out and makes me wonder if Yoon Ha Lee even remembered what happened in his own novel before starting its sequel. Very odd. Also, from the first few pages there are spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. This is becoming more than a little tedious, as we saw in my review of Ninefox, so I shall say no more on the matter. Raven Stratagem, on the whole, sees Yoon Ha Lee fall into the same trap as Jeff Vandermeer with the Area X Trilogy, and indeed William Gibson with Neuromancer‘s sequel, wherein the second book in the series is way more political and wooden than the first. It does mean that we get to explore the wider workings of an already-established universe rather than getting bogged down in more of the same, yes, but when the original was as amazing as it was, a little similarity would have gone a long way rather than move backwards. This means that it’s a great shame that Raven Stratagem is as comparatively boring as it is. Many mysterious characters we wanted to know more about are introduced unsubtly and suddenly, obliterating any impact they would otherwise have had, and the characters we know from Ninefox who make a return are bland and lack continuity in relation to how they were before (see above glove example).

Overall: 6/10

Nothing is wrong with Ha Lee’s writing, it must be said. And this book is an enjoyable one to read, unlike Vandermeer or Gibson’s sequels that I couldn’t even get halfway through. However, I should have taken a hint when it came to those two juggernauts, as Raven Stratagem was of course not worth the wait, like my mum told me it wouldn’t be, because sequels hardly ever top the original (perhaps with the exception of Empire Strikes Back). And of course it has left me completely devoid of any excitement or desire to read the finale of the trilogy, if indeed there is going to be one at some point. After Ninefox Gambit, I had so many burning questions that I needed answers to. Those I harbour after Raven Stratagem are embers at best. Sorry, Yoon.

Movie Review 13: Fury

fury_movie-wide-940x400-1414801544.jpg

“Ideals are peaceful… war is violent.”

Fury is one of those films that I always liked the look of when it was on the side of buses, but then never ended up getting a chance to see for whatever reason. It happened with Spider-Man: Homecoming last month, it will probably happen with Thor: Ragnarok when it comes out. But those are superhero movies. This one is about the real heroes. It’s… also the DVD mum got dad for Christmas 2015, so that’s why I watched it in the first place. Whoops!

Fury follows the crew of the eponymous World War 2 Sherman tank, and their new bowel gunner, a totally inexperienced typist who must learn the ropes, and fast, lest he bring down the rest of the tight-knit team who have been together since the start of the war. They move along the German lines, a five-man army taking the country one small town at a time. There isn’t much else to it without major spoilers, but when a film with so simple a synopsis makes it into my top ten, you know you’ve got a gem.

The Good:

I have to start by praising the sound design in its totality. There is no better word for ‘all of it is stupendous’. Every bolt clattering in its housing rattles your bones, every muzzle flare is a blinding crash of light. Don’t even get me started on the tank shells. It’s the slams of punctured metal and the whistling of high velocity shells (which were created by, of all things, taping a whistle to a frisbee and throwing it past a microphone) that really bring Fury to life and make you feel like you’re the one going to war. It’s not just the sound effects that are tremendous but also the soundtrack. Haunting choral movements roll in like fog whenever Nazis are on screen, in stark contrast to the triumphant, almost electronic bass and sweeping piano utilised whenever the ‘Good Guy’ theme pounds across the battlefield. It’s as guttural and just as much of a beast as the tanks themselves, and it all creates that chilling atmosphere of hollow glory, hollow being the operative word, when the tracks (no pun intended… geddit, caterpillar tracks?) are so mournful and full of emotion. It also helped greatly with placing my shoulders somewhere up round my ears during one of the most tense moments I’ve seen in film, being the one-on-one tank combat scene. Fury circles a growling Tiger 1 tank, taking heavy machine gun fire and narrowly avoiding the fearsome shells. The Tiger itself seems impervious to anything our heroes throw at it, and the perspective given from the cold, efficient German crew just adds to the pressure of the scene. When two rounds are put square into the Tiger’s back end, flames erupting from the massive entry wounds, you have to manually pull your nails out of your armrests. Slow as the operation of tanks may be, Fury’s action is pulse-racing and truly a white-knuckle experience. Speaking of the good guys, though, all the characters, I think, are as strong as each other. This makes Fury the odd one out in the ‘Suicide Squad’ genre, and by that I mean a film or game where all but one or often all of the team of main characters are killed off. Some examples being Halo: Reach, Halo 3: ODST Rogue One, (click on all of those for my reviews of them) and… Well, the DC flop itself. There is not, I believe, a single weak link in the main group in Fury. The cast is great, too, and that helps, of course. This also allow for greater impact when we are offered the symbolism of all four original Fury operators dying inside the tank, forever entombed in the vehicle that became their home for the duration of the war, and will now be their home forever, and Norm, the new recruit, escaping. It is touching and tastefully done, so tastefully in fact that I didn’t notice it during my first watch of the film. While we’re on the subject of subtle emotion, the poignancy of the closing aerial shot hit me lot harder watching it this time round (not to mention the fact that it’s the only time the camera leaves the ground for the whole film, where it spends all of its time boots on the ground with the soldiers), and is a fantastic visual note to finish on given the content and overarching messages of the rest of the film. Visuals throughout are also grogeous, and we all know what a sucker I am for large, chunky engines of war bristling with radio antennae, wires, spare ammunition and, most importantly, loads of guns. The gritty tone and washed-out visuals (done much more effectively than they were in Dunkirk where everything just looked sort of… wet) are punctuated at regular intervals by split-second shots of violence that are just long enough to imprint the flash of blood and guts on the backs of your eyelids for a few moments, after which the film rumbles forward with whatever skirmish is taking place. The gore, much like Fury’s imagery and emotion, is restrained enough to not become dragging, yet somehow intensely satisfying in its discretion.

To be Improved: 

My complaints are mainly little nitpicks, as is often the case with films that make it into my top ten favourites of all time. The first issue I have is one that I don’t even mind that much, but I feel the need to point out that the constant laser-fire, tracer rounds though they may be, becomes a bit too Star Wars at points. Which, in actual fact, we all know is no problem for me, and to be honest it’s good that we actually get to see the bullets flying rather than a few yellow beams every now and again as per Saving Private Ryan and the like. While we’re on the topic of star wars, another problem with Fury is that, like Rogue One, and in fact Halo: Reach, the protagonists do develop a tendency to drop like flies. It makes more sense in Fury, though, because the whole climactic battle is them becoming drastically overwhelmed, pinned down with one of their treads destroyed, unable to move, fighting quite literally to the death. Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, there is a moment in Fury much like the opposite of the fact that Tom Hanks’ character lets a soldier live, and is then killed by the very same man. In Fury, Norm is forced by Sergeant Collier (Pitt) to shoot a German soldier, and is then, when spotted by an SS trooper while hiding under the tank as the film draws to a close, is allowed to live. It’s different… But it’s just as cheesy, and it’s really the only moment that doesn’t hold up in terms of poise or subtlety like the rest of the film’s more intense scenes do. Now, the one big issue I have with Fury is the pacing. I guess in war it’s difficult for this not to be the fact, but the film has a choppy-changey attitude when it comes to knowing when to switch from a lull to an action sequence. It’s very obvious whenever someone or something is going to get shot, or an explosion is going to go off, or a enemy trap is about to be sprung, and when it suddenly grinds to a halt and spends what feels like quarter of an hour (a lot in film-time) on… breakfast? I guess a lot of it is to show the fragility of civilians, the hopelessness of it all, and, during a particularly cryptic anecdote from Micheal Pena’s Garcia, how close-knit Fury’s crew are, purposefully excluding Norm. It’s hard to follow, a little disjointed, and all in all a rather jarring point in the film simply due to how suddenly everything quiets down. But, again, this is interrupted all in good time by the Germans shelling the town, obliterating not only the area itself but also the messages whatever that scene was trying to convey, and I use the plural because to me it seemed to be around three or four. It’s unfortunate that they all become a little tangled and are then forgotten about, because it did add another layer to the narrative, if a little too heavy-handed on the characterisation (John Berthnal’s standoffish Gordo licking a terrified German girl’s eggs and bacon, for instance).

Overall: 8/10

Despite the above-mentioned awkwardness of the one scene that tries to cram emotional exposition into a film with such explosive subject matter, it still conjures up some touching subjects to consider. The bond between brothers in arms. The futility of war itself. The despair of it all. However, none of the sentiment delivered in Fury is rammed down your throat, as it is in so many films. There are no downright ‘sad’ scenes, which is why I haven’t used that word until now, yet it still hits home on the poignancy front. It also, luckily, hits home when it comes to the front that is the film’s setting, and the glorious fight scenes complete with a wholly appropriate and satisfying aesthetic, along with the expert sound design and the score’s tone, create a war movie that is as intimate as it is fiercely action-packed. One for the history books (pun well-deserved).

 

 

Lego Review 19: 75182 – Republic Fighter Tank

178361700.jpg

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been a sucker for sci-fi vehicles with aerials and radio antennae on them for as long as I can remember. I think it just adds a gritty quality that I like, for some reason. Because of that, and also because I just fancy tanks in general, especially twenty pound Lego ones (see my Imperial Hovertank review), I’d wanted the Republic Fighter Tank for a while. As my parents have issued the ultimatum that any more Lego in the house will make them very angry, I was hesitant when me and my girlfriend stood in the Lego section of John Lewis before going to see Dunkirk (review of that here). But to be honest, I’d just been paid, and the set was rather cheap, so I thought I might as well. I remember saying to her after I’d built it that I was appalled I’d even considered passing it up.

The Republic Fighter Tank comes with the main build (a tank, what were you expecting?), a Phase 2 clone gunner which, as far as I’ve been led to believe, isn’t actually canon, Jedi Knight Aayla Secura with her blue lightsaber, two battle droids with a blaster pistol each, a wrench and rifle for the clone, and six studs to be shot.

The Good:

  • Lots to be said about this set despite it’s relatively small size and very affordable price point. That’s a positive in and of itself.
  • First off, the lovely light green and sand-red colour scheme (I believe those are the official Lego colour names, but I’m not an expert expert) really pops. This isn’t so much a positive as a personal preference, but I do like it so what else can it be classed as other than a good thing?
  • Lack of stickers, a major plus, but in turn no lack of detail therein. In fact, there are loads of little touches included which really add to the personality of the build, like:
  • the printed control panel,
  • the wrench, a lovely addition,
  • the small transparent cheese slope pieces (official name) to make up the windscreen, a great piece of fine detailing that I’d like to see more of from Lego,
  • and the control sticks inside the cockpit (in reality a Lego bucket handle piece) which, though barely seen, are wonderful.
  • The clone figure himself is intensely good, with some fantastic leg-printing and a Phase 2 helmet to die for (in fact, he’s the first one I own!).
  • Much to my surprise, I don’t actually mind the Jedi figure because she’s blue and I think that’s appealing to my better nature. Besides, now I can do some roleplaying that she’s stranded in the desert somewhere and this one lone grizzled gunner operating his tank pulls up on her, then they form a begrudging partnership to take down a battalion of droids. See? If my imagination can run that wild just by looking at two minifigures and considering what chemistry they may have, that’s an achievement on Lego’s part.
  • I got, very pleasantly, a spare of the rapier pieces used as mock antenna on the back end.
  • Stud shooters are actually integrated nicely, which Lego seems to be getting better and better at.
  • The build process itself is very intuitive but is also very fresh; loads of techniques I’ve never used before and some great new pieces included along with some classic ones really make it feel modern and exciting.
  • The wheels, even though they’re much different to the Hovertank’s big transparent ones, works exceptionally well and really make it roll like… Well, a tank!

To be Improved:

  • This isn’t even an issue with the set, but rather with the design on the whole; it just looks a little piddly without a forward turret. In fact, even the original Lego version has a gunner position complete with cannon, and though the hatch does open up very nicely on this new model I’ve had to order a Brickarms Hotchkiss turret (and also heavy machine gun for the clone to wield just because I thought it would be sad only buying one gun).
  • The biggest kick in the teeth has got to be the minifigures. One clone operating a whole tank? I get that it isn’t very big but it just seems like laziness on Lego’s part every time they include the flimsy battle droids, which most people don’t even count as minifigures anyway. To be frank, I am not among those people, and don’t really own enough battle droids myself, so in all fairness I’m not unduly upset, but perhaps replace the Jedi with another clone and this would be perfect.
  • Lego still haven’t fixed their rifles, despite the fact that the tranquilliser guns from the Lego Dino range had the bottom of the stock flush with the minifigures’ arms, meaning they could actually hold it without it being bent at a funny angle. Why this has not carried over to the other lines is beyond me.

Overall: 8/10

The majority of criticisms I’ve seen online for this tank cite the original version’s major size difference (that being the fact that it was way bigger) and the rubbishness of the battle droids. I, in case you hadn’t noticed, don’t whole-heartedly share these opinions, and believe this update to be far superior in nearly every way save for the lack of a second clone. It’s more streamlined, more fun to play with, there’s sort of an implied backstory and lore to it that wasn’t there before, and small though it may be it still took me the duration of a Usain Bolt documentary to build it.

Movie Review 12: Dunkirk

maxresdefault.jpg

“There’s no hidin’ from this, son… We have a job to do.”

I was invited to see Dunkirk with two of my three older brothers so we could have a boys’ night out at the pictures. However, much to my surprise, Dunkirk was the only so-called boys’ film that’s come out all year that my girlfriend actually wanted to see. I couldn’t help but indulge her, plus Harry Styles was in it so she had some eye candy if things got really boring. I’m okay with that; I had Cillian Murphy to look at.

It’s rather difficult to write a synopsis of a film based on actual historical events without taking it straight off the Wikipedia page, so I shall do just that in case people don’t know anything about what is arguably one of the most triumphant events in British wartime history: The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, in the north of France, between 26 May and 4 June 1940, during World War II. There you have it! Let’s get to the movie.

The Good:

I think most of the things I enjoyed during Dunkirk where due in no small part to Vue Cinemas’ gorgeous surround sound. ‘Scuse my French, but FUCK was the sound good!! Divebombers positively screaming overhead, explosions that made your ears ring, gunshots clattering out that felt like they were impacting all around you. It felt more like a 4D movie than a 2D one, with the seats juddering everytime a Spitfire made a pass. God damn, this is what cinema should sound like, god damn god damn. Ahem. Let me compose myself and talk about some other enjoyable aspects, speaking of the planes. The few times I felt my eyes sting a little during Dunkirk were, besides the moment when all the small vessels arrive (which was actually butchered by Kenneth Branagh’s subsequent line, tut tut) and when the boys arrive home and see the white cliffs of Dorset (I’ve already mentioned my little house there on this blog), were whenever the spitfires flew past. They were actually gorgeous, I can’t lie. I’ve never even had a particular affinity for the engines of war, but I guess a substantial part of me enjoys first person shooter video games and sci-fi war movies, and then on top of that Fury is among my top favourite films of all time, soooo perhaps I’m just trying to hide the fact that I do love a beautiful piece of engineering, and the Spitfire is no exception. Says a lot that I purchased a Lego Republic Fighter Tank in the shopping centre we saw the film in, doesn’t it? The visuals of the film in general were rather nice, if a little washed-out, just like the soldiers, and some particularly stomach-churning aerial shots were enjoyable when your seat was wobbling along with the nose of the plane. The acting throughout the film isn’t half bad, surprising considering it’s mostly American accents that work on the big screen, and I hate to say it but you know it’s never a good sign when I draw my “The Good” section to a close with a comment on something which is expected to be present in any film. To attempt to defend Dunkirk before I get into my criticisms, I will say that I acknowledge the fact maybe the character’s aren’t memorable because they’re not supposed to be, as war is anonymous, and hardly any are individual heroes… but let’s be frank: Nolan probably wasn’t thinking that hard about the symbolism.

To be Improved:

When I had to turn to my girlfriend and explain that yes, we were now on a third separate timeline in terms of the plot, I think we both realised that something was amiss. Cillian Murphy is on the small vessel Moonstone after being rescued, heading back towards Dunkirk; Cillian Murphy is also refusing access to a boat to another of our main characters, who is stuck on the beach (confusing enough already, the only indication that these are different time frames being the time of day); and Tom Hardy flies towards a German bomber about to take out a minesweeper. To add insult to injury, Hardy’s character takes about twenty minutes of screentime to get to the bomber, despite going full throttle and blazing through his Spitfire’s fuel. This is because it keeps jumping back and forth, and then to my intense frustration, Hardy doesn’t even catch up to the bomber before it completely obliterates the minesweeper, killing most on board in one barrage. There are moments like this that aren’t entirely explained, like when some sort of blind man (possibly, again, not explained) touches our hero on the face before giving him a blanket. Also, when Harry Styles’ character (who is the grumpy nadir of the film) does what he does best by being moody on the train ride home through England, there’s this sort of lacklustre reveal, as the other protagonist (though I use that word lightly) reads Churchill’s triumphant Commons’ address in the paper, that “Oh, I guess Harry’s character thought everyone would be angry at them for retreating, but we already… Sort of… Knew that Dunkirk was a triumph rather than a failure so… What?” On top of that, the sheer frustration that Hardy’s character, when he finally does run out of fuel, simply glides to a halt on the beach and, despite that fact that he flies over hundreds of men on the beach being evacuated, is captured by Germans in the film’s closing shots. I guess he didn’t want the Spitfire to fall into enemy hands? It’s all just so vague and confusing, and any emotional impact is lost because we don’t actually spend enough time with any of the characters to really care about them. Plus, and god, now I’m just ranting, the trailer spoils absolutely any moment of tension. My girlfriend got all tense when Styles’ character goes into the belly of a boat, and I just turned and said “Torpedo, I reckon,” and lo and behold, someone shouted “TORPEDO!” and the whole thing was blown to smithereens. Again, when some Englishmen hide in the bottom of a fishing boat which is being used as target practice by some unsuspecting Germans, one is asked to plug the holes or the boat will sink. I covered my ears, and sure enough, only my girlfriend jumped at the next bullet which came through the hull. How did I know all these things, I hear you ask? The trailer, man. The damn trailer. When the next Star Wars one comes out, I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t think I want to watch it, because studios are just spoiling more and more and more with each new film. The artificial tension throughout the film was a cheap way of making the audience on edge, and I started to notice about halfway through that at most quiet moments, some sort of gunshot was about to go off. Nearly one hundred percent of the time, I was right. It still gave me a bloody fright every single time, which was a nice adrenalin kick, but I’d go to a horror movie if I wanted that. And finally, speaking of artificiality, the death scenes that came every quarter of an hour were even less emotional than the jumpscares, and that’s saying something. It wasn’t poignant because, much like a horror movie in fact, characters were just picked off at every opportunity rather than in any sort of moving scene. Sure, as I kind of mentioned in the above section, maybe this is the point, as you can die at the drop of a hat in war, but Nolan’s death scenes were just too formulaic and at intervals far too regular to make me think that was the case.

Overall: 6/10

Dunkirk rumbles moodily along for its duration and for whatever reason manages to make its nearly two-hour runtime feel like half of that, with some great shots and emotional moments, but fails to deliver on any satisfying characters, action or poignancy overall. More like a string of ‘boo’ moments, the film (like many Cillian Murphy stars in, Anthropoid included) is not one that will be remembered, despite its subject matter, mainly due to the frantic (but somehow still dragging) jumping between scenes. I shall simply agree with what my dad, who saw it a few days before me with aforementioned brothers, said when I asked him whether or not Dunkirk was good: “Mmm… It was enjoyable, yeah,” he replied, with a so-so look on his face. And, in stark contrast to the history it was based on, I’ve gotta admit that that’s all Nolan’s Dunkirk is, unfortunately.

 

Game Review 7: Halo – Reach

274215
I knew Spartans were big, but damn. Forget the marines, at this rate we’ll be able to just punch the Covenant fleet out of orbit.

Halo: Reach. My, my, what a banger of a game, eh? That’s right, I’m not afraid to slightly spoil the outcome of this review from the get-go. This is my favourite Halo game of them all, and may just be one of my favourite games, period. I don’t actually remember how or when I got Reach, but it was probably for Christmas. What I do remember is finishing the campaign in close to a single sitting, it was so enjoyable and varied. The characters, the story, the visuals, all those gorgeous armour permutations. Yes indeed, playing this through again for the review for what is probably nearing the tenth time sure was a treat.

In Halo: Reach, you once again step into the gleaming Mjolnir boots of a near-indestructible Spartan. This time, however, you not only have your juggernaut-like strength, speed and agility to help you, but also five team members just as if not more skilled than you. Noble Team are at the forefront of the fight to save the planet Reach, and the participants in the birth of the all out war between humanity and the Covenant that you go on to play as the figurehead of in Halo 1 through 3, the indomitable Master Chief.

Disclaimer: I won’t be discussing multiplayer or forge, because as someone who was never allowed to buy Xbox Live, never had a Playstation in order to take advantage of the free multiplayer, and then eventually just realised that single player was all the fun I needed, I play games purely for their campaigns.

The Good:

There are definitely some amazing aspects to the Reach campaign that, when we fans first played it, blew our socks off. The most innovative (but, as we shall see, one of the least thrilling) was by far the space-combat section. Getting launched into atmosphere in the cockpit of a Sabre is something that I, with my propensity for fan-girling over massive orbital battles the likes of which you hardly ever see on consoles outside Mass Effect cutscenes, thoroughly enjoyed the look of. Again, we’ll come to my criticisms of this mission, but that’s not what this section of the review is for. The most blindingly apparent update to the Halo franchise is the visuals. It’s much more akin to those of ODST, favouring moodier but just as beautiful skyboxes complete with rolling thunderclouds and scorching sunsets than the studio did in previous games. I really like how Reach feels. The fiery twilight of the Falcon mission, the cool blues of the dawn sneak through New Alexandria, and the cold darkness of the night-time sniping excursion punctuated by the green flashes of your night-vision (which is far more useful and better incorporated than it ever was in ODST, by the way). All these and more make each mission really feel unique, and gives the game on the whole much more personality. People may argue in favour of a more seamless experience, but when you think of what a washed-out slog ODST felt like at times, and the sudden stark and jarring switches from desert vista to barren snowscape that punctuated Halo 3, Reach is a far more appealing system in my opinion, and one that the developers really managed to perfect.

Noble_Six_City
Baggage claim was going to be hell today.

To be Improved:

As mentioned above, the space combat level, Long Night of Solace, is mind-numbingly dull. The first time you get to go into space you practically jump for joy, but as I said I’ve played Reach about ten times now so you really start to see the cracks after that many sessions. There are also some abrupt difficulty spikes throughout, such as the appearance of two hunters, or being dropped into a city full of brutes with only a magnum (I know that’s kind of the point of the level but the checkpoints are particularly poorly placed). The only other real problems are that Firefight gets super boring, and even then it is the only way to properly earn armour permutations outside of multiplayer; if you read the disclaimer at the start of this review you’ll already know what a problem that is for me.

Bungie_MultiplayerMadness_640x368
Spartan Greg made a mental note to remember the safe-word next time.

Overall: 8/10

Halo Reach was a great delight to go back and play through again. There are some frustrating moments, and ones that are outright mind-numbing to have to keep repeating, but overall it is a fairly solid experience. There’s nothing much more to say than that, and I’m sure the, what, two or so people who read this review aren’t going to mind it being a little shorter than most. Thanks all the same.

Model Review: Bandai 1/12 Stormtrooper Kit

I don’t know if this will become a regular series, but I really like the looks, feel, build-process and design for these models, so who knows if I’ll buy more in the future. I own a few Gundams, but many were treated horribly (by me, that’s what happens when buying model kits for a twelve-year-old who’s likely to bash them about in battle with his Star Wars figures) so are now broken beyond having any display or play value. That said, I did buy a fairly nice one for a tenner recently just to go with all the other various items on display in my room (many Lego sets among them, obviously), so we’ll have to see whether or not this segment becomes a repeated thing.

Star Wars and sci-fi are at this point absolutely the summation of my interests, and of all the designs for the various ships, armour, weapons and characters across all the different works I’ve come into contact with over the years, none are more iconic than the stormtrooper. I therefore thought it best, when I discovered the model kit and also the fact that it was only eighteen quid with free delivery, that I finally purchased a proper version of a member of the Empire’s unyielding legion of ground troops.

The Good:

  • Articulation is insane, owing to the wonderful combination of soft and hard plastic parts which actually fit with the stormtrooper in canon, with their leather under-armour.
  • No gluing is a welcome respite from Warhammer 40k which I used to collect, all of which have a dirty great splodge of glue leaking from their neck and shoulders like some sort of horrific, pus-filled wound. The snap together design even allows for some extra posing options, seeing as you can slide the joints slightly apart for a tad more manoeuvrability.
  • The way the black parts really are beneath the armour as the bodyglove would be adds a depth which I would expect kits from lesser companies do not include.
  • Very dark green transparent visor is greatly appreciated.
  • Paint sticks to it like glue, and it may just be the paints themselves (more on that in the additional section below) but anything I put on dried almost instantly.
  • Was incredibly nervous about the stickers, but they went on smooth as anything despite their small size, and were not affected by the dampness of the wash (again, see below for details).
  • The inclusion of all three weapons is amazing, as I’m very accessory-oriented in my opinions of sets like this, and discovering the blaster pistol that I have to admit I thought only death troopers utilised was a nice surprise.

To be Improved:

  • Some coloured detailing already included on the figure would be nice, but I suppose as they’re just mould-injected plastic (or whatever they are) on sprues, I imagine this is a manufacturing impossibility. The decals themselves are very good, as mentioned above, and you can just paint the figures yourself which made me feel so much like I was having a thirty-years-too-early midlife crisis it was unreal, though it was still super fun.
  • If this isn’t the tiniest (literally) complaint on this site, I don’t know what is. There’s a millimetre wide blue button decal that goes on his stomach panel, and this didn’t stay down flush with the rounded plastic so is just sitting on top of it. However, it still stayed on, despite having a wash go down on top of it, so not many complaints in terms of how strong the glue is!
  • Two fisted hands instead of just the one would also have been great, as they included enough trigger hands for him to be ambidextrous so should probably have added another fist, too. That said, we do get a nice pointing hand, though the finger on this is far too long compared to the rest of the hand so it just ends up looking weird.
  • Some joints are a little looser than I’d like them to be but I’m sure this is only limited to this specific model.

Additional Section – Painting Process:

For this kit, I used Citadel Paints from Games Workshop because there’s a fairly solid range of different types and colours, and because they’re also relatively cheap when only buying one or two different colours. I bought Nuln Oil (a dark grey wash for bringing out fine detail), Blood for the Blood God (a personal favourite, I wonder if you can guess what it was used for), Abaddon Black which is a standard super dark black that I used for scuffing and scratches, some sort of tan for weathering (there are about ten different types and I just chose the one I liked the look of), and a thinner for making the wash lighter. I also managed to dig out my old Warhammer paints including a brown which was all dried up but still allowed me to drybrush on some mud, and Boltgun Metal which was a dark silver that, again, I was easily able to drybrush, this time onto the weapons. I used a fine detail brush for stippling scuff marks and doing nice flicky scratches, then loaded a brush with Blood for the Blood God and flicked it at the figure with my finger. I did the same for the tan colour, then drybrushed the same shade over the top of the legs and waist. There are some natural mud and blood flecks which I’m particularly proud of, showing just how far a little rough weathering can go when it comes to creating a story behind a figure. I wanted to use a tiny bit more red on the figure, because I’d literally used about ten tiny drops of a whole pot, so I’ve drybrushed on some dried blood to the heel of his fist and along the underside of his wrist. Perhaps he cracked some rebel skull with the grip of his rifle and got some guck on his nice white armour, who knows? I then applied a nice helping of 1:5 wash/thinner across the whole figure, and I was going to wipe some of it off with a cotton bud while it was still slightly wet but it ended up giving a really nice dirty, oil-soaked look, so I left it as it was. Looks like this trooper got stuck on TIE detail on the Death Star at some point. The end result is a pretty beaten up trooper who looks like he’s been everywhere from Tatooine to Endor then back again, and I’m really happy with the result, especially those mud and blood flecks.

Overall: 10/10

With no other brands to compare to besides the ever-frustrating Warhammer and a handful of slide-together wooden and cardboard models I owned as a child, the Bandai Stormtrooper is still an obvious standout, as with the Gundam line. While they were still intact, my four Gundams were incredibly detailed even without painting or panel lining, and wonderfully articulated to boot. The Stormtrooper is no exception. Bandai create brilliant kits for a (mostly, providing it doesn’t include a sniper rifle the size of a building or colossal gold-chrome-plated wings) fantastically affordable price, and in my opinion this stands among the most satisfying and well-made of them all.

Lego Review 18: 30521 – Mini Batmobile

31849076235_93101dfbc4.jpg

I got this from a car boot sale in Dorset, which seems like a very odd place to pick up a relatively new, sealed Lego set but it’s the truth, and when you think about it it’s unsurprising considering the fact that most country folk have started to become savvy to the ways of the business world.

The Mini Batmobile is a polybag that, the guy who sold me it claimed, was given away free with tickets for the first screenings of the Lego Batman Movie… Possibly? It comes with all you see above, which is a one mini batmobile. It does, however, also come with a spare batarang and trans-purple stud, which is nice.

The Good:

  • Where the big set has wheel mounts that swivel to turn this into a more monstertruck feeling vehicle, Lego has actually sort of stayed true to that design in the miniature version, as you can take the Technic wheel pieces off and place them in different orientations.
  • The build process itself is nice and rather unorthodox.
  • Those red stripes are very subtle but without them it wouldn’t feel the same.
  • As mentioned above, purple stud is a nice addition, especially two of them.
  • You get one of what I shall be referring to as the Nexo Knight shield pieces, in black.

To be Improved:

  • The overall design is very ugly, in my opinion, now that it has been shrunken down to this size:
  • The windscreen has a very obvious ugly line through it,
  • the thruster wings aren’t oriented the right way,
  • the batarang on the front is way too big (no way they could have gotten around this but still),
  • and by god is that shield piece the wrong one to use. It either completely shrouds or totally exposes the windshield, and doesn’t look good either way.
  • In fact, everything about this set looks like it’s stuck on the wrong way round, but then you switch it about (which is what Lego is designed for, just saying) and it still looks wrong.

Overall: 4/10

The batmobile is supposed to be this big gorgeous chunky thing, and this set is decidedly none of those things. I really don’t like the way they’ve tried to ‘capture’ the look of the one from the film, when in reality they just don’t have the pieces to do something like that. It’s not minimalist; it’s just ugly.