Feb 26 2014

Game review: Why I love Android: Netrunner

NetrunnerI’ve just played my tensest game of Android: Netrunner so far.

I was building the mighty ICE towers of Haas-Bioroid, while Ben—my regular lunchtime opponent—was attacking with Andromeda, a Criminal runner. Ben’s got a knack for creating a strong economy, and his latest deck combined his usual surplus of credits with a strong Link score and plenty of tactical attacks on my remote servers. Meanwhile, I’d taken the precaution of bolstering my standard HB ICE—now with added Rototurrets—with NBN moneymakers such as Pop-Up Window and Tollbooth and a couple of Jinteki ambushes.

The game took a whole hour; our longest game yet. I scored my winning 7 points only a couple of turns before my R&D was completely depleted, which would have cost me the game. Ben, with a final score of 5, had gone through his entire stack, and was hanging on at the end with 2 cards in his Grip and a stunning, barely possible 5 points of Brain Damage. He’d slammed headlong into a trap that had trashed his big-hitter Icebreakers, and every run he made after that became an expensive risk.

There is a very good chance that what I’ve written above makes no sense to a lot of people, but I’ve fallen a little bit in love with Android: Netrunner.

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Aug 16 2013

Let board games be board games: why I need to see the dice in Space Hulk

Space HulkI got incredibly excited when I heard that Games Workshop’s classic Aliens-a-like board game, Space Hulk, was being brought to my PC.

There actually hasn’t been a proper rendition of the board game (the classic 1993 video game version was more ‘inspired by’ than a direct translation), developers Full Control seemed to truly understand what made Space Hulk great: the tension and the difficulty and the balance of tactical play and the blind luck of the dice. From what they’ve been saying, it sounds like Full Control are in this for the long haul, too, with planned DLC such as new missions and different Space Marine chapter colours and even a free level editor.

I enjoy video game versions of board games, when they’re done well. I don’t have to fork out for an expensive box and I don’t have to round up a group of like-minded friends to play with. I’ve lost track of the amount of time I’ve put into Carcassonne on the Xbox or my phone, and even into Keldon Jones’ wonderful homebrew version of Race for the Galaxy on the PC.

I spent a couple of hours last night playing Full Control’s rendition of Space Hulk, and—while it’s a bit buggy—it’s great. It looks fabulous. The sounds are clompy and loud and reek of atmosphere. The rules are the same as the board game.* I like it.

However, they’ve missed out something crucial to the game: dice.

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Apr 24 2013

Review: Casino Royale

Welcome to my review of Casino Royale, the twenty-first part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Die Another Day, here. Spoilers follow.

Casino Royale
(dir. Martin Campbell, 2006)

Casino Royale trailerI didn’t realise this back when the film was first released in the cinema, but Martin Campbell directed Casino Royale. Campbell has—so far—only directed two Bond films. What is interesting is which two he has directed: Goldeneye and Casino Royal.

The Bond franchise has tried this tactic before. After the critical drubbing of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Guy Hamilton—director of Goldfinger—was brought in to revitalise the series with Diamonds Are Forever. Hamilton then went on to direct Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.

Goldeneye was very clearly created as a revitalisation of the Bond franchise, and it turned out to be a very successful one. It removed both the high camp of the Roger Moore films and the overwhelming seriousness of Timothy Dalton’s Bond, creating a film that—007 franchise aside—worked as a great action movie in its own right. Pierce Brosnan was a charming Bond with a temper that only erupted under the greatest of duress, and so he retained audiences who were previously divided about which types of Bond films they preferred. It was just a shame that the subsequent Brosnan films each took a further step down in quality before climaxing in the puddle of piss that was Die Another Day.

Casino Royale is another obvious revitalisation of the franchise; in fact, it takes one step further in that it’s a full-on continuity reboot (albeit with some confusingly familiar elements, such as Judi Dench reprising her role as M). Just as Moonraker took notes from Star Wars and Die Another Day from xXx, Casino Royale takes its inspiration from the excellent The Bourne Identity. Unlike those examples, Casino Royale turns out to be a brilliant film.

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Apr 10 2013

Review: Die Another Day

Welcome to my (much delayed) review of Die Another Day, the twentieth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, The World Is Not Enough, here. Spoilers follow.

Die Another Day
(dir. Lee Tamahori, 2002)

Die Another Day trailerI remember watching Die Another Day at the cinema, and coming out thinking that the Bond franchise had hit an all-time low.

Of course, this was before I saw Moonraker, so perhaps this was unfair of me. Die Another Day is nowhere near as bad as Roger Moore’s trip into space. In fact, when I first started watching the film this time around, I even started to think it was a pretty good film—at least, I did after James Bond stopped surfing. James Bond doesn’t surf, you see—not in my opinion. He is a suave, sophisticated spy who likes gambling and fast cars. Yes, he parachutes; yes, he climbs mountains; yes, he even jumps off man-made constructions with bungee cord tied round his legs. He does not—should never—catch waves.

The problem, of course, is that Die Another Day came out in 2002, which was the same year another spy was introduced into the world: xXx, starring Vin Diesel,  was billed as a Bond-beater, with a central character who partakes in extreme sports. xXx turned out to be terrible—but clearly the Die Another Day filmmakers felt they had some competition.

Anyway, I started to watch Die Another Day, and aside from some curiously bad decisions (the aforementioned surfing and the credits music as performed by a computer called Madonna being the most heinous examples), I started—against all expectations—to enjoy myself.

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Mar 13 2013

Daily Express propaganda trashed by the European Parliament

A typical front page of the Daily Express

I’ll be carrying on my series of reviews of the James Bond series either later today or tomorrow, but for now I wanted to share a quick link that tickled my ticklish parts.

I hate the Daily Express newspaper. I genuinely think it plays a huge part in making the UK a much less pleasant place to live, because it demonstrates that there are people—a hugely vocal minority—who are stuck in a vitriolic mind-set of utter hatred towards anyone who isn’t the same colour, race, class, creed or, often, gender. Having spent 4 and a half years working in a press clippings agency, I think it’s fair to say I’ve read more than my fair share of Express articles, and if I never have to touch Richard Desmond’s dirty organ again it’ll be too soon.

The Express have printed an article claiming that a website built by the European Parliament, set up to educate kids as to the workings of the EU and the democratic process, is “’sinister’ Soviet-style propaganda”. It contains a quote from Paul Nuttall, UKIP MEP, stating that “Political propaganda on vulnerable kids is a form of child abuse”.

Unless we really believe that informing the next generation about how their world works is a Bad Thing, this is ludicrous even by the low standards of the Express. In what is clearly a golden age of information, the more we tell our kids the better we arm them for their future.  Sure, we might disagree with someone politically, but it is nonsensical to flat-out lie in order to keep people from making up their own minds. The Express has not been known for its adhesion to the truth for a long time, but it is baffling that there is apparently no limit to how far they are allow to push the boundaries of fiction in the name of “news”.

In the absence of any legitimate legal response or agency that might actually be able to do something about this kind of thing, I’d normally recommend doing what I always recommend doing with stories from the Express: just ignore it. However, the response from the European Parliament’s Information Office, reproduced below, is utterly brilliant and displays a sense of humour previously unheard of in Belgium.

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Mar 9 2013

Review: The World Is Not Enough

Welcome to my review of The World Is Not Enough, the nineteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Tomorrow Never Dies, here. Spoilers follow.

The World Is Not Enough
(dir. Michael Apted, 1999)

The World Is Not Enough trailerI’m going to assume that anyone reading this has heard of the phrase, “willing suspension of disbelief”.

The Bond franchise is built on the suspension of disbelief. The fact that we can swallow the scenarios it throws at us is the key to its success. In the course of this challenge, I’ve watched—and, for the most part, accepted—that a man with metal teeth can bite through steel cables, that MI6 really might weaponise an Aston Martin or a Lotus Esprit, that an army firing machine guns can’t hit a man running across an open field, that the easiest way to steal a spaceship is to build an even bigger spaceship that can eat it.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot accept Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist.

Look, I’m sure that there are—indeed, I really hope there are—female nuclear physicists. I’m willing to accept that some of them have big round breasts and full lips, because beauty is no barrier to brains. But Richards is a different creature altogether. With her vacant eyes and mouth that tends to hang open when she’s thinking, she looks like a blow-up doll.

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Mar 6 2013

Review: Tomorrow Never Dies

Welcome to my review of Tomorrow Never Dies, the eighteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Goldeneye, here. Spoilers follow.

Tomorrow Never Dies
(dir. Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)

Tomorrow Never Dies trailerTomorrow Never Dies has an interesting plot. The central villain, Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce), is not trying to destroy the world or rob a bank. He’s not taking revenge for past injustices or carting drugs across borders. Not that he’s against any of these things—far from it. He just wants exclusive media rights when the story breaks.

I’ve had a morbid curiosity on the lengths that the media will go to when looking for news. Back when I used to write for www.iwilldothatformoney.com, now sadly defunct, I wrote an article that broke down the UK papers in a simple guide as to their slants and intended audiences, and four years working for a clippings agency back when I first moved to London gave me some insight as to just how much bullshit can make the front page. Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies is the ultimate media baron, however, because he takes the news cycle a step further: in the absence of a good news story, he creates his own.

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Mar 2 2013

Review: Goldeneye

Welcome to my review of Goldeneye, the seventeenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, Licence To Kill, here. Spoilers follow.

(dir. Martin Campbell, 1995)

Goldeneye trailerSean Bean would have made an excellent James Bond. Think about that for a moment. It’s okay; I’ll wait.

Okay, so he could never actually be Bond because he’s contractually obliged to die before the end of every film he’s in. But apparently he was in the running to be Bond before Pierce Brosnan finally got the job, and I think he would have been awesome.

It wasn’t to be, but at least we got to see him playing a double-0 agent in Goldeneye. He’s billed as a villain equal to Bond: the same training, the same skills. Having watched the Bond films in order, that’s not as effective a threat as the filmmakers intended; all of the double-0 agents we’ve seen to date have been mildly ineffective at best. Apart from the meeting of agents way back in Thunderball, all of them have died within minutes of appearing on the screen, 007 excepted. With that track record, 006 should be the easiest villain to defeat in the whole series.

Actually, he technically dies before the opening credits, but it’s an obvious feint. Not even Sean Bean usually dies that quickly. If it had been John Hurt, it might have been more convincing.

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Feb 27 2013

Review: Licence To Kill

Welcome to my review of Licence To Kill, the sixteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, The Living Daylights, here. Spoilers follow.

Licence To Kill
(dir. John Glen, 1989)

Licence To Kill trailerAs disappointed as I am that Timothy Dalton only made two Bond films, that’s nothing compared to how disappointed my girlfriend is.

She’s been quietly supportive of my challenge to review all the Bond films, partly because she prefers 007 to the plethora of spandex-clad heroes that I normally follow in film, but mostly because it gets me writing, and anything that gets me writing is A Good Thing. While she hasn’t watched every film with me, she’s made sure to watch at least one complete film from each of the Bond actors (off the top of my head, she’s sat through the entirety of From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Licence To Kill, so she’s had a very good selection), and when she first saw Dalton her comment was, “He’s the best looking guy so far”.

Let’s look at that for a moment before I get into my review proper. She didn’t much like Roger Moore (“He’s not a spy; he’s a bit seedy”), and despite recognising the merits of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service she really didn’t rate George Lazenby too highly. She was—possibly unusually—nonchalant towards Sean Connery, and I know from recent cinema trips that Daniel Craig is too thuggish for her tastes. I think she likes Pierce Brosnan, but Dalton definitely caught her eye.

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Feb 23 2013

Review: The Living Daylights

Welcome to my review of The Living Daylights, the fifteenth part of my challenge to review all of the James Bond films. I’m watching each film in turn and trying to figure out which one is my favourite. For more information, see my introduction here. You can read my review of the previous film, A View To A Kill, here. Spoilers follow.

The Living Daylights
(dir. John Glen, 1987)

The Living Daylights trailerSo, Timothy Dalton, then. He’s not Roger Moore, that’s for sure. Or George Lazenby, or even Sean Connery. He’s a very serious man.

This isn’t a bad thing. After the reign of Moore as James Bond—especially For Your Eyes Only and A View To A Kill—seeing Dalton play Bond as a straight assassin is very refreshing. Quips aside, it’s easy to believe that Dalton’s 007 would happily murderise any bad guys who got in his way: he is an angry, vengeful Bond.

The Living Daylights opens with a training exercise on the Rock of Gibraltar, which is particularly exciting for me as I used to live there and spotted my old home in the footage. Three Double-0 agents (002, 004 and 007) are engaged on a training exercise that goes horribly wrong when 002 and 004 are assassinated. From there, we go to Bratislava, where Bond is charged with providing covering sniper fire for a defecting Russian officer, General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé). Despite his darker and edgier makeover, Bond refuses to kill a cellist would-be assassin (Kara Milovy, played by Maryam d’Abo), identifying her as an untrained stooge.

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