Wednesday, 26 November 2008

TV Review - 24: Redemption


Jack’s back. Again. This time he’s only giving us two hours of his life in this uneven and largely underwhelming and unsatisfying TV movie.

First of all, I’m a big 24 fan. I’ve stuck with the show through the hugely entertaining first three seasons and the increasingly lackluster later seasons. Season six was the show’s nadir and it was evident at the end of that season that a shake up of the 24 format was needed. 24: Redemption is the bridge between season six and seven and also serves as a dry run for a big screen version of 24. Does it renew the franchise? Or is it the same old 24?

The problem I had with this movie was that it was lacking in the ambition and outright insanity that 24 is capable of. Most of the 24 staples were present (torture? Check! Traitors in the government? Check! Terrorists/freedom fighters? Check! Jack kills someone using only his legs? Check!) but some were strangely absent. The main absentee was a sense of urgency. There was a time limit set but there was no suspense, mainly because as an audience we know that Jack ends up back in the USA for season seven. None of the supporting characters were presented as anything other than expendable stock characters; the old army friend, the cowardly weasel, the officious bureaucrat, the kid sidekick. The main fault of this 24 outing was that it was predictable and that’s something 24 never is (for better or worse). There were no wild plot twists, no sudden changes in allegiance, and no real threats to Jack Bauer. I never once thought that the guerrillas Jack fought against were capable of stopping or killing him.

Complaints aside, the performances in this film were solid. Kiefer Sutherland gave his usual soft but deadly performance as Jack Bauer and at one point threatened to burst into tears so he managed to wheel out some emotional range. Powers Boothe appeared as a cynical world weary version of his scheming President character from season six. Powers gives a good performance and I hope he’ll make an appearance in the new season. Robert Carlyle did well with what he was given, his role was pretty slight and undemanding given his talents and he didn’t really have a lot to do other than look concerned and put on an Irish accent.

The action sequences still suffered from 24 becoming a live action version of Time Crisis. Jack stands behind cover, Jack leaves cover, kills a terrorist with one shot. Jack goes behind cover again, throws some explosives or shoots a barrel that causes several terrorists to blow up. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s fun, but it’s like watching someone in a shooting gallery because you know that Jack’s targets are never going to hit him in return.

The problem with 24:Redemption is that it really doesn’t work as a stand alone movie. There are government conspiracy subplots that set up the seventh season and anyone without an advanced degree in 24 history would probably feel out of their depth with the rest of the film. The movie works quite well as a pilot episode for the seventh season but it doesn’t end on a traditional 24 cliff hanger that would usually make watching the seventh season compulsory. 24:Redemption fails as a movie as it isn’t satisfactory in isolation and as a part of the series it’s merely two humdrum episodes nailed together.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: The Moment of Truth OR Robin Hood: Merlin



The tenth episode of Merlin was all too familiar for my liking. It kept reminding me of another BBC show based on a medieval legend, a show I have covered in the past over on livejournal. That's not a good way to curry favour with me.

So Robin Hood begins with a band of scruffy looking bandits attacking a village. The peasants mill around a bit and look worried as Dr Julian Bashir and his bandits search for food to steal. Dr Bashir manages to slap around Bearded Farmer and Merlin's mum, he then shoots a guy with his crossbow to show how evil he is. He promises to return in a week for the rest of the harvest. Merlin's mum decides to pop across the road to Camelot to visit her son.

The opening titles roll, after they've finished Merlin's mum has an audience with Uther. Uther refuses to help as the village in question is in another kingdom and he doesn't want to start a war by crossing the border. Merlin's mum should've told him the bandits used magic, he'd have been over there in a shot. Merlin decides to head home with his mum to protect her and for some reason Morgana and Gwen go too. Because this is the episode where they really couldn't think of any motivation or activities for the girls so they turn into kick-ass warrior women. Sigh. This is exactly what happened with Maid Marian in Robin Hood and that didn't end too well.

Merlin and the girls head across the road to the village (it takes them a day and a bit to cross the border, Merlin's mum made the journey during a scene change) and are joined in the night by Arthur because he couldn't leave Merlin to the bandits. I assume Arthur came up with some cunning ruse for his absence otherwise Uther would tear Camelot apart looking for him. He'll probably burn Gaius Meldrew out of spite.

The bandits reappear at the village and Dr Bashir threatens to chop off Bearded Farmer's head but Arthur rides to the rescue. It's at this point that there is a Robin Hood arrow sound effect as a sword hits the wooden post next to Dr Bashir's head. Arthur can throw a sword as straight and fast as an arrow! Wow, that's really... stupid. Arthur then fights a bandit wearing a full mask. I assume it's in case any of the villagers call the cops and need to ID him out of a lineup. Why does this guy wear a mask whilst his leader, Dr Bashir doesn't? What makes him special? Oooh, is it because he actually lives in the village and has taken to moonlighting as a bandit? Could he be robbing his own food stores? Sadly we never find out as Arthur hits him a couple of times and he falls over.



Merlin gets into a swordfight with a bald thug. Just as Merlin begins to lose, he makes the bandit's sword into a Ready Brek sword which gives the bandit such a warm glowing feeling that he drops the blade. Merlin then runs him through and admires his blade with a grin. Sociopath.



Morgana jumps into a fight with her sword and kills off one of the bandits. No show, stop it. I know the show is trying to be sensitive to today's need for strong female characters but can't they do it whilst using some ingenuity. Morgana doesn't need to be a swordswoman to be shown as a capable character. She's supposed to become a powerful sorceress so why not have her use her intelligence to hatch cunning plans rather than have her run around like a cut price Keira Knightley?

Merlin meets up with his old friend Will who turns out to be a socialist. As a peasant Will has ideas way above his station. He sounds a lot like Dennis the repressed peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Will the socialist peasant wants to hand over the food to the bandits like a stinking coward. The peasants don't like the idea of starving to death and decide to rally behind Arthur and fight for their home and pies.

Merlin tries to tell Will about how awesome Arthur is but Will points out that Merlin hasn't shared his magic secret with Arthur yet, so they can't be that close. Arthur and Merlin do a bit of talking and Merlin explains that he left home because he needed to find where he belonged rather than the true story that his mum effectively sent him to live in a castle with a mad king who hates magic.

Arthur decides to initiate a training montage to teach the peasants basic sword and stick fighting. Arthur also sends Bearded Farmer out as a sentry, he's to ride back if there's any sign of the bandits. He's doomed. Morgana still insists she can fight along with the other women in the village to bolster the number of defenders. Arthur doesn't want smelly girls in his army though. Arthur can't see the power of Girl, erm, Power!

Bearded Farmer rides back into the village. Unfortunately he's totally dead. Guess he didn't spot the bandits before they spotted him. Will the socialist moans some more about fighting and he decides to run away from the fight. Merlin decides to tell Arthur why Will is such a whiny jerk. Will's dad was killed fighting for the local king and Will has harboured a grudge against nobility ever since. Surely a peasant would accept the fact that his king could call him up to the army at any time and that he may die in service of his lord? Once again, it's as if the peasants of Merlin don't understand the feudal system...

Arthur tries to order the women and kids out of the village so they can hide in the woods during the fight. The women refuse so Arthur accepts them into his ragtag army and gives them a speech about fighting for their right to party. There's some stirring music, it's all very teen Braveheart.

Gwen tells Arthur off for refusing to eat peasant porridge. This is the first time that Arthur and Gwen have exchanged more than two words in an episode. Finally! Nothing much comes of this conversation though.

Merlin and Arthur suit up for battle and prepare to meet the evil forces of Dr Julian Bashir. Merlin almost tells Arthur that he's the Magic Man but Morgana interrupts to tell them that the bandits are approaching.

The bandits ride into an ambush but Morgana messes up the trap as she can't light a fire. So Mr TV Show, is she a competent warrior or a useless girl who can't set off a trap and needs Merlin to come along and do it for her? This little scene does seem to undermine the whole equality angle the episode has been building up. Merlin finally sets off the flame trap which sets off a ring of fire that looks like it was made by petrol. Or maybe it was pitch, after all Robin Hood taught me that pitch is the most explosive substance known to man.

Will returns during the fight and saves Merlin from a stab in the back. He's going to totally die now. Merlin has a Saving Private Ryan moment as the battle slows down and the sound gets distorted and drowned out. Merlin summons a small twister, or hurricane, which knocks a couple of people over and knocks a bandit off his horse. Fearsome stuff.

Arthur then fights mano a mano with Dr Bashir and handily kills him. Arthur then demands to know who was casting magic during the fighting but just as Merlin is about to reveal his secret Will is shot by Dr Bashir last gasp crossbow attempt on Arthur's life. Will claims to be a sorcerer as he lays dying, saving Merlin from having to reveal himself. Will takes ages to die as Colin Morgan (Merlin) tries to summon some tears for this scene. He tries squinting really hard but that doesn't seem to work to well.



Will gets cremated and Arthur is very disappointed that Merlin didn't trust him enough to tell him that Will was a magic user. Merlin's mum then effectively tells him to bugger off out of the village. Charming.

Next Episode - Arthur kills a unicorn, the dick.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Excalibur OR +12 Hackmaster



Let's do this!

The episode kicks off in a musty old tomb where the Bionic Woman, Michelle Ryan, or Nimueh as she calls herself, wanders over to a sarcophagus and incants some mock-Gaelic magic words. A gauntlet clad hand reaches out of the crumbling sarcophagus lid but sadly doesn't say, "I...live...again!"

Meanwhile, Arthur is crowned as Crown Prince. Gwen teases Merlin about being proud of Arthur but Merlin is more proud of washing socks. Then the BBC effects team, The Mill, reuse the special effect from Doctor Who episode, The Girl In The Fireplace, as a black knight rides a horse through a stained glass window into the court. Still, it's a dramatic entrance even if it's been done before. The Black Knight throws down his gauntlet which is then taken up by Mook-Of-The-Week, Sir Owain. We have never seen this knight before so I guess his life expectancy is pretty short, especially when the Black Knight's terms are single combat to the death. Owain is appropriately wearing a red cloak which is pretty close to a red shirt.



After the opening titles Merlin asks Gaius Meldrew if he's ever seen the Black Knight before. Gaius pretends not to know anything about him which fools Merlin but doesn't fool the audience. Gaius ALWAYS knows everything about the guest monster of the week.

Morgana makes her token appearance of the episode to complain at Arthur about the duel. Arthur exposits to Morgana and the audience that the Knight's Code forbids him from interfering and Owain must fight alone tomorrow. No one has any faith in Sir Owain, so he must be bad. I mean, the characters don't even know if the Black Knight is any good, all he's done so far is ride a horse through a window. Admittedly, that's pretty bad ass but it's not a clear indicator of fighting prowess is it?

Gaius meets up with Geoff the Librarian and they recognise the Black Knight's heraldry as belonging to Du Bois. A knight killed by Uther years ago.

Arthur meets up with Owain to give him a pep talk before his death, sorry, fight. Gwen gives Owain a token of luck from Morgana and Owain seals his fate by saying, "I won't need luck!" The poor, disposable fool.

Owain fights the Black Knight and gets in a fatal blow to the chest. The Black Knight shrugs it off and kills in Owain in retaliation. The Black Knight always triumphs! Oh well, bye bye Mook-of-the-Week!

Everyone is very upset that the knight we'd never seen before is dead but the Black Knight issues another challenge which is quickly answered by Sir Pellinore. Hmm, guess he won't be joining the Round Table unless they plan on bringing him back from the dead. Again, the show's just messing with us by throwing in names of famous Arthurian characters.

Gaius and Merlin venture down to the crypt (without a torch, because underground crypts are renowned for being well lit) and find the shattered sarcophagus of the Black Knight. The undead knight was Uther's brother in law who decided to try and kill Uther after Uther's wife died in childbirth. Gaius consults his Fiend Folio and determines that the Black Knight is actually a wraith. Oh no! They've got level drain as a special attack. Also, you need a magic weapon to hurt them.

Pellinore lands a deadly blow on the Black Knight but the Black Knight always triumphs! So he kills Pellinore. Arthur challenges the Black Knight because he's not very bright. Uther tries to convince Arthur to back out but Arthur will not hear of it. This is mainly because Arthur doesn't know he's just signed up to fight an unkillable wraith.

Merlin decides to use magic to destroy the Black Knight but that doesn't work out too well. Merlin conjures up some fire to engulf the Black Knight but he just stands and takes it and then makes Merlin flee for his life with a single helmeted stare.




Nimueh pays Uther a visit to gloat about Arthur's impending death and to also reveal the origin of Uther's hatred of magic. Nimueh was hired by Uther to use her magic to make his wife Ygraine fertile so she could give birth to Arthur. She died in childbirth which Uther held Nimueh responsible for and he decided to destroy all magic. Well, that was a little dull but straightforward. I don't see why they had to string that mystery out for nine episodes.

Merlin decides to construct a magic sword for Arthur and chats with Geoff the Librarian about the subject. Merlin only bothers to hear the first couple of lines about a magic sword and dragon's breath and runs off. For all he knows the story could've been about a cursed sword. Merlin visits Gwen who basically offers herself to him but she is disappointed to find out that Merlin only wants her for her access to her dad's sword cabinet. Merlin steals off with Papa Gwen's best sword. Gwen spends the rest of the night frustrated.

Uther decides to take Arthur's place in the duel and employs Gaius to slip Arthur a sleeping draught to take him out. Arthur drinks Gaius's special potion and falls into a deep sleep.

Merlin visits the CGI dragon beneath the castle and asks him to breathe on it so he can make it all magicky. The dragon waffles on about making a powerful sword and destiny and blah, blah. Eventually he breathes fire on it to create Excalibur. Simple as that huh? Disappointing. The dragon warns Merlin not to let the sword fall into the wrong hands.

Which is of course exactly what Merlin does. Uther finds Merlin in the armoury and takes Excalibur off him to use in the duel. Armed with a super duper magic sword, Uther fights the Black Knight. At one point Uther knocks the Black Knight's helmet off revealing an unconvincing cadaver mask. No one screams, "Deadite!" which is disappointing again. Uther eventually stabs the Black Knight which causes the wraith to explode.

Merlin informs the dragon of Uther's victory but the dragon is super pissed at him for letting Uther take the sword. Merlin is told to take the sword far away and hide it so that mean old Uther can't use Excalibur for evil acts of evil. Merlin wanders down to the local lake (where the evil fairies lived a couple of episodes ago) and tosses Excalibur in. At least he didn't place it in a stone, that would've been really stupid.

Yawn. A paper thin plot which was evident in that two mooks that were sacrificed to the Black Knight in order to pad the episode out. The origin of Excalibur was decidedly unspectacular and it just seemed to be a case of the show using a famous name to spice up an otherwise pedestrian episode.

NEXT WEEK - Peasants! Mud! Raiders! Fighting!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Children In Need OR A Very Special Episode



So last Friday there was a big charity event in Britain called Children In Need. It's an annual telethon designed to raise cash for all kinds of good causes in the UK. Every year there's usually a few TV specials, last year we were treated to a hilariously awful Robin Hood episode where Guy of Gisburne threatened to hang the Children In Need mascot, Pudsey Bear. There was also a five minute episode of Doctor Who where the 10th Doctor met the 5th, that was great fun. What did we get this year? The first two minutes of the upcoming Doctor Who Christmas Special (which seemed pretty redundant to me) and a mini episode of Merlin. Hurrah! Take a look:



Here's my special commentary to go with it.

0:03 - "Once upon a time in Camelot," because Merlin needs to sound more like a fairy tale for dimwits.

0:20 - Prepare for some awful continuity between cuts. At this mark, Uther and Gaius Meldrew are stood side by side to the side of the big table with noone behind them. Then cut to Merlin.

0:23 - Uther is now stood in a different position behind the table holding a large sheet of paper with a guard stood directly behind him. That's quite spectacular. Uther must be using magic to transport himself around the room like that.

0:40 - Is Richard Wilson having a stroke?! I don't know what emotion Gaius Meldrew is supposed to be showing but it looks like he's just wet/shat himself.

0:45 - That's actually a picture of the old Pudsey. It now looks much crappier. Gaius obviously hasn't kept up his subscription to 'Charity Mascots' monthly.

0:46 - Arthur mouths 'Pudsey?' at Merlin. Cut to Merlin. Cut back to the back of Arthur's head. That's awesome editing guys. I know this is just a bit of fun for charity but surely they should've spent more than a lunch hour cobbling this thing together?

1:12 - Merlin's in the stocks. LOL! Yep, we get the recurring joke of the series, Merlin in the stocks. But don't worry it's all in the name of charity. This stops the monster sized Pudsey from destroying Camelot because the only weapon against it is humiliation. That's probably why it doesn't humiliate itself by appearing in this special.

1:24 - Chest full of gold coins! And a small crowned figure of Pudsey. It seems the peasants of Camelot are so fearful of the beast that they've constructed small idols in order to ward it off or appease it. I want to see the cult of Pudsey return in a later episode.

1:31 - For some reason Arthur is wiping his hand on Merlin. Despite the fact that Merlin is the one covered in rotting vegetables. Maybe Arthur is just stroking his servant?

1:45 - Uther threatens to chop off our heads unless we donate, what a nice way to ask for money. Why hasn't this guy been overthrown yet?

1:50 - The all important details to donate money. Children in Need raised £20 million on the night which is awesome considering the current doom laden financial climate.

So there you are, I think we can all agree that episode was 'special'. The recap of the proper episode will go up tomorrow night and next week I'll try and stick to my original schedule of Sunday posting.

Friday, 14 November 2008

More Fallout 3 (Slight Spoilers)


Fallout 3 has had a profound effect on me. I’m contemplating murder, not real murder of course but virtual cold blooded murder.

It’s for the right reasons; I’ve been betrayed, made to look stupid, and unwittingly helped someone perpetrate genocide in a settlement. It’s all down to my own hubris as a Wasteland Jesus; a do-gooder and all round hero of the down trodden. I thought I could force two communities to co-exist in peaceful harmony, despite the warnings from both camps, and because of my arrogance innocent people are dead.

So, wow. That’s some good story telling right there. The plot suckered me into behaving like I normally would and then pulled the rug out from underneath me. When I discovered the consequences of my actions I was a little sick to my stomach. I didn’t care about the in game benefits I’d gained, I was too guilty to enjoy them. This has all occurred in a side quest too. Just one of the many, many quests you can pick up in the Wasteland and it’s more emotionally effecting than the main quest to find your father, which has sadly descended into the usual clichĂ© after making you go through a couple of mind numbing fetch quests involving corridors and switches (but hey, I finally gets me some power armour!).

Anyway I figure that I should enact some vengeance. Tell Roy Phillips I’m coming and hell’s coming with me!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

TV Snark – Merlin: The Beginning Of The End OR Merlin Drops The ‘M’ Bomb!

I don’t have a snappy intro this week (do I ever?) as I want to take a moment to dedicate this post to long time reader Crys O'Regan who sadly passed away last week. Although I never met him, he was one of the first people outside of my immediate circle of friends to give me positive feedback and encouragement on my recaps and he will be sadly missed. My condolences go out to his partner Viv.

Okay, without further ado let’s take a look at the antics of the jug-eared wizard in training and the guest star of the week.



The show opens with this small tyke walking around Camelot market with a gobsmacked expression. He's also accompanied by some baritone chanting, "Ommmm. Ummmm." etcetera. I guess that means he's important - he's got his own theme tune.

The tyke and his guardian(?) approach a market stall to collect some important supplies but as per TV cliche #1723, the stall keeper has sold them out to the guards. There's a chase with some slo-mo thrown in to make knocking over some utensils exciting. One of the guards leaps out and stabs the tyke (boo, hiss) so his guardian busts out some telekinetic magic. The wounded tyke flees into the castle keep whilst his guardian magically closes the door and faces off against the half dozen pursuing guards.

After the opening titles the tyke reaches out to Merlin telepathically. Another cheap power to manifest, nice cost cutting BBC! Merlin can see the boy is sat in the courtyard whilst the guards are advancing on his position. Merlin's brilliant plan to rescue the kid is to tell him to run across the courtyard in broad daylight and hope he's faster than the pursuing pack of guards. I'm sure he could've created a distraction with magic so the kid could get across in relatively safety, rather than just telling the poor wounded tyke to leg it.

Merlin's 'plan' works in that the kid survives, but it does draw the wrath of the guards as they see him flee. Merlin quickly takes the boy into the castle and dives into Morgana's room where Morgana and Gwen seem to be... partying? It looks like they're drinking pretty early in the day.



I'm guessing that Morgana and Gwen didn't expect to do anything in this episode and were passing the time with a few drinks. I can't blame them really. Morgana forgives Merlin's intrusion into her private party and hides him and the boy from the guards. Oh yeah, we also learn from the guards that the boy is a druid. That explains the chanting theme music and ummm... green hood?

Meanwhile Uther is hellbent on druid genocide. It seems that being a druid is a capital crime punishable by death - even druid tourists are not exempt. Uther will never expand his tourist trade with that attitude. Uther sentences the elder druid to death, despite Arthur's protests, and has him publicly executed. Harsh. The kid lets out a telepathic scream when his guardian is killed and smashes the nearby mirrors, like Daryl Hannah did in the movie Splash when she tried to say her crazy mermaid name.

Merlin talks to Gaius about druids which raises Gaius Meldrew's suspiscion. It seems that Gaius has got used to the formulaic nature of the show and predict what Merlin is going to do. Merlin mentions the telepathy and Gaius explains about young druids and blah, blah, blah.

Merlin and Morgana try to tend to the poorly child and they have a conversation about magic and how it 'chooses' you rather than you choosing it. Before they can have an in depth discussion about destiny and predetermmination, the scene changes to dinner where Uther is still obsessed with catching and murdering the child. Anthony Head might as well dress as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's Child Catcher for this episode. If it helps you can boo and hiss whenever he's on screen. Arthur tries to be the voice of reason again but is told to continue his search until he finds the boy.

Arthur visits Morgana's room and tries to search but she manages to frustrate him into leaving by insulting and embarrassing him. Arthur does reply with "Why don't you just go back to brushing your hair or whatever it is you do all day?" He doesn't know what Morgana does either, he must read my recaps! There's also some comedy magic with some animated, tip-toeing boots but the line from Arthur really makes the scene for me.

Merlin tries to get some healing supplies to attempt to cure the child's infected wound but he's detained by an impromptu Gaius Meldrew anatomy lesson. He doesn't examine Gaius's anatomy though, that would be horrible.

Merlin visits the expensive CGI dragon again. The dragon doesn't approve of the druid boy and essentially calls him an evil double. The dragon tells Merlin not to protect the boy. Merlin doesn't understand, as usual.

The boy communicates with Morgana briefly via telepathy - she has the gift! Not that we don't already know that. But at least Morgana's getting involved in the magic side of things and may eventually get to do more than sit about talking in her funny accent.

Merlin's amateur treatment of the boy's wound hasn't worked so he ropes in Gaius for help. Gaius Meldrew isn't happy with this as he doesn't want to risk his neck for the druid. He should be used to this by now though, he gets dragged into Merlin's plots against the king EVERY WEEK.

Gaius cures the boy of his infection in the space of a few minutes and he's suddenly well enough to travel. Gaius has invented super penicillin!

Morgana decides that she will be the one to escort the kid to safety. She just needs to get hold of a key from Arthur to sneak out via a secret passage. Merlin uses comedy magic to levitate the keys from Arthur's belt and tease him around the room. For some reason Merlin taunts Arthur with the jangling sound of the magically floating keys and then dumps them in some soup. Arthur then leaves the room for no reason other to provide Merlin with an easy way of retrieving the keys from the soup. What? That scene started off fun and then didn't make any sense in the end.

Morgana tries to escort the kid out of Camelot. She makes a mistake by having the child wear the same green cloak that the guards saw him in previously. It's pretty distinctive and easy to spot and along with Morgana's MASSIVE RED CAPE, it would only fool the guards in Robin Hood. Morgana's escape attempt is short lived and she and the boy are captured by Arthur and his guards.



Uther gives the order to execute the boy at dawn. He rants at Morgana for betraying and comes over all bigotted about druids. Morgana wants to know what his beef is with the druids but he's not saying. Uther wants the boy executed as a lesson to Morgana. That's his lesson to everyone, kill a close friend. Remember when he wanted Merlin to die as a lesson to Arthur? Uther is such an unreasonable bastard. In fact, his character is a little too complicated for this show. His shifting morality and role in the show must surely confuse casual viewers and younger kids. If this was a more mature programme, Uther could be a multi-layered bastard on par with Al Swearengen from Deadwood.

Morgana and Arthur decide to break the child out of prison and save him from execution. Merlin doesn't like this plan as the dragon's words have sunk in. Unfortunately Merlin becomes an important part of the escape plan despite his protestations. Merlin tries to get a second opinion from the dragon who almost straight forwardly explains that the boy will kill Arthur. Merlin doesn't accept the notion of predestination (again we're denied a philosophical debate) but the dragon's words do have an impact. Merlin discusses predestination with Gaius instead and decides to do nothing. He's out of the escape attempt!

Morgana distracts Uther by apologising and having dinner with him. Meanwhile Arthur uses a special knock out gas bomb to get rid of the dungeon guards. He must have whipped that up with his chemistry skills. You know, the ones he's never displayed before.

Arthur frees the child and runs down a corridor to a grille but he can't escape as Merlin isn't there to remove the grille from the outside. Arthur draws his sword and prepares to fight off the guards that are searching for the boy. Why he can't just order them to go and look somewhere else, I don't know. You'd think being prince and commander of the garrison would give him that kind of privilidge. The boy uses magic telepathy to guilt trip Merlin into helping him escape by using a scared, whiny, kid voice. Merlin manages to find a grapple hook and rope and saddle Arthur's horse and reomve the grille, all before the guards can walk down a small corridor. Now that's fast.

Uther learns that the boy has escaped. He orders more death with a side order of pain for the escapees and then threatens Morgana again. She's no longer immune from Uther's moods.

Arthur drops the boy off with the druids. How he knew where to find them, I don't know. The boy finally reveals his name to Arthur - Mordred! Dun, dun, dunnnnnn! Of course this makes no sense at all.

So Mordred is going to become an evil version of Merlin? Rather than Arthur's illegitmate son and disgruntled knight? Hmmm, this could be interesting if I had any confidence that the show would do anything with it. I mean, is he going to appear again when he's older to challenge Merlin and Arthur? Or have the writers just thrown in another Arthurian reference to please/bate fans? Either way, I think it's a waste of Mordred as I much prefer him as an arrogant douche of a knight.

Next episode - The Bionic Woman returns! Undead knight! Excalibur?

Monday, 10 November 2008

That Used To Be My Nickname



Don't worry, Merlin recap will be tomorrow. Life's been a bit eventful to say the least over the weekend so I'm running late. Also, I may actually scan some comics that aren't Hitman if you're really lucky.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Game Review - Fallout 3


Fallout 3

Format: PC

Plot: You are a ‘Vault Dweller’, someone who has lived in an underground bunker for his/her entire life. The world outside the bunker is a nuclear wasteland, a world that no sane person would leave the Vault for. Unfortunately for you your father has left the Vault and you must find him in the wasteland of Washington DC .

Pros:


The VATS mechanic is great.
As a nod to the original turn based Fallout games, Fallout 3 has VATS. This allows you to pause the action and target body parts of your enemy. The VATS gives you a percentage chance of success and then relays the results to you via delightful slow-mo. You can play Fallout 3 as a straightforward FPS but you’ll be missing out on the carnage that VATS offers and you’ll waste more ammo than you need to. This feature is brilliant for those of you who don’t like FPS combat or lack the reflexes to effectively deal with howling mutant bears and crab people. I was skeptical of this feature when it was revealed during development but now I love it.

The gameworld is breathtaking. The designers have created a world that seems both dead and alive at the same time. I can’t help but stop and stare across the ruined vista of the wasteland, impressed by the vast draw distances and playing spot the ruined tourist attraction. Even the rough and ready settlements have their own separate themes and, whilst not always user friendly, are always interesting.

Missions can have multiple solutions. This is nothing new but it’s something that’s still rarely seen in games. Much like gaming classic Deus Ex, Fallout 3 gives you the freedom to accomplish missions in whatever manner you wish. You can complete your tasks by violence, diplomacy, stealth or a fine blend of all three. Heck, you can even lie to quest givers and tell them you’ve performed the task without actually doing it.

Exploration is fun but also very stressful. The Fallout series have always contained an element of exploration but this time the exploration is achieved through your own sense of adventure and your ability to spot interesting locales, traveling merchants, friendly settlements, booby traps, raiders, slavers, and mutant bears. I love the sense of adventure and achievement from discovering hidden locales and NPCs but I’m also in a constant state of fear as anything could leap out and attack me or fire on me at any moment. Travelling around at night is especially eerie but is in someways easier, although you can’t see as much detail, the darkness does allow you to sneak around and avoid certain enemies.

The quests are varied. As Fallout 3 is an RPG there are the usual fetch quests and even a kill x number of monsters quest (although I’ve only seen one such mission). The motivations of each NPC determine the type of quests you receive and there are some genuinely interesting and engaging quests that don’t involve combat. I don’t want to spoil any quests as the joy is in unraveling the various storylines taking place in the wasteland.

Scavenging is essential but also fun. I’ve never really been a collector in games, I’m quite happy not to find all of the hidden marmots and unlock a new hat, thank you very much. Fallout 3 provides monetary reward for finding certain items in the game and returning them to collectors so that’s a very good impetus for finding and picking up tons of crap. You’ll need the caps (Fallout’s monetary system is based on barter and bottle caps) early on so this feature is a great help until you become a more efficient wanderer of the wastes. Scavenging is also essential for maintaining your equipment; all of the weapons and armour you find in the game degrade through use so finding replacements and spares is mandatory. You will have to make choices about which weapon to use in a given situation based on weapon condition and ammo supplies. If you’re toting a shotgun and it’s getting close to breaking point, you might want to be stealthier in your approach until you find a trader to fix up your equipment or you find another shotgun and attempt to repair your weapon using spare parts. This feature really adds to the game’s survivalist mentality but I’m sure there are players that hate it because they want to run around gunning everything down with no comeuppance.

The game contains the patented Fallout vibe.
The dark sense of humour that was present in the earlier games is here but it’s a little muted in comparison, there are less ‘wacky’ NPCs than the originals for example. There are many amusing moments and the gameworld contains the 50s retro futurist design that works so well.


The tutorial is very well done.
I don’t want to spoil it but it’s a pleasure to play and introduces you to some of the basics of the game in a gentle curve. Plus Liam Neeson is your dad.



Cons


Sometimes the dialogue choices become psychic or a bit stupid/bizarre.
This usually occurs during the main quest if you meet an NPC before accomplishing a specific task, your character will ask questions that rely on facts you don’t know yet. I personally haven’t had this happen in a major way yet but I’ve heard of some who have. One thing that I did find a little stupid was that upon being issued with a new mission I had the opportunity to immediately lie and say I’d done it. That’s obviously not going to work is it? If I was playing a dumb character I’d have found the option funny but as I was playing a smart character it was just plain stupid.


Certain shops, NPCs and events are only available at certain times.
If you’re impatient then heading into a settlement and finding its trading post closed can be annoying. There is a simple solution though, you can simply use the ‘wait’ or ‘sleep’ feature to pass the time in a rapid blur. So if you arrive in Megaton at 2.00am and everything is closed, you can simply stand in the street, select ‘wait’ and move the clock on 7 hours when you know the shops are open. Alternatively you can find a bed and sleep the time away with the added benefit of recovering hit points.

The ‘Local Map’ feature is a bit rubbish. The World Map works fine and allows you to instantly travel to places you’ve already explored, which is nice and saves on tedious retreading of steps. The Local Map is supposed to help you when inside buildings or settlements so you can find items or NPCs. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in 3D so you have no idea if the item you’re looking for is on your present floor or three floors up. Still, it does the job for the most part but occasionally gets annoying when you’re desperately searching for an item in a large, multi-storey building.


Conclusion

With a vast world and a multitude of possibilities Fallout 3 offers hours of entertainment. I’d recommend taking the main quest at a leisurely pace as once you’ve completed the game you can’t free roam around and mop up any left over business. I’m certainly going to sample as much of the game as I possibly can before I reach the end game. Fallout 3 is the most engaging and immersive game I’ve played since Bioshock.


Arbitrary Score Out of Ten: 9/10

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: The Gates of Avalon OR Arthur Fails His Saving Throw

I'm late once again, sorry about that but I've been playing Fallout 3 instead of watching substandard television. I was going to post a parody recap of Merlin using Fallout 3 instead but then I realised that would take away important Fallout 3 time. So you'll just have to settle for my regular attempt at recap humour. Fallout 3.



The episode begins with Arthur floating serenely underwater. There's a big lamp behind him so we can see him in the murky depths. There's a young lady standing above him but she's not helping Arthur, she's watching him drown. It's at this point I take a screen capture and realise I've made her look like a National Socialist. Oops.



We cut to Morgana suddenly waking up and crying out "Arthur!" Either the sequence we've just seen was her dream or we've intruded upon a very private moment. Before that thought can settle in, it's time for the titles.

After the titles we join Arthur and Merlin out on the hunt for wildlife. Merlin bumbles about and spoils the hunt for Arthur. Fortunately for Arthur he soon gets to hunt the most deadly prey of all - no not the orangutan - Man!

A group of bandits are menacing this week's guest stars so Arthur kills all but one of them. He totally shoots a dude in the back with a crossbow and then stabs another guy. There's no blood because this is family television but I think this is the most convincing fight scene the show has produced so far. That's still not saying a lot though.

Arthur takes the father and daughter (Aulfric and Sophia) duo back to see Uther who then grants them hospitality after hearing a sob story about displaced nobility. Morgana asks Merlin about them as the daughter is the girl from Morgana's prophetic dream. Morgana is suspicious so she visits Gaius Meldrew who is busy setting fire to something in the name of SCIENCE. Gaius accidentally sets fire to his desk but at no point does he say, "I don't believe it!" Very disappointing. After this bout of comedy pyrotechnics, Morgana tells Gaius all about her psychic dream but he brushes her off with a sleeping draught. Gaius warns Morgana not to inform Uther of her dream because he'll probably go mental and burn her.

Meanwhile Aulfric (who by the way is Kenneth Cranham, you may recognise him from lots of stuff) visits the surviving mook from the earlier bandit encounter. Aulfric staged the mugging! Gasp! Aulfric then does what all villains do, he murders his mercenary minion with magic (try saying that five times fast).

The next day Arthur decides to take Sophia out for a walk. Arthur asks Merlin to cover for him with the king. Merlin is understandably reluctant as Uther will probably murder him for lying to him. We then get a "blink or you'll miss it" appearance by Gwen. Morgana confides in Gwen about her precognitive dream but Gwen doesn't really offer much advice. That's it, thanks for stopping by Gwen. Merlin lies to Uther and gets thrown in the stocks. I guess Uther was in a good mood.

Arthur's date doesn't go well as his psychotic guards wander into the forest and shoot at him and Sophia. Arthur isn't in the mood after almost being shot through the head so they head back, much to Sophia's disappointment.

Gaius hears of Arthur's date and becomes suspicious. He breaks into Aulfric's room and finds Aulfric's obviously magical staff. I mean come on, it's got a big crystal on the top and runes carved into it. It's the most stereotypically magical staff ever. I would think that Uther could sense stereotypical magic at 500 yards so he could burn it.

Morgana bumps into Sophia and tries to warn her off Arthur. Sophia has none of it however and meets up with her father to dump some 'evil plan' exposition on the audience. Morgana visits Arthur to warn him about Sophia but he acts like a big jerk so she gives up.

Arthur arranges another date with Sophia and Merlin lies for Arthur again and ends up in the stocks, again. Ho ho ho. Sophia lures Arthur into the forest and casts a spell on him using her evil red eyes. She uses magic to suggest that Arthur ask for her hand in marriage the next day. It's not going to be a subtle use of mind control is it? Asking for marriage out of the blue isn't normal behaviour for Arthur. He's usually more interested in killing things made of CGI.



Gaius is concerned about Arthur's date and exposits all over Merlin (ewww) about Morgana's ability and seers in general. Merlin is suspicious so he follows Aulfric out of Camelot and down to a small lake. Aulfric begins to talk to fairies that look like this:



Snicker. Anyway Aulfric wants to broker a deal that will get him back into Avalon and retake his immortality. The fairies are actually sidhe and they don't want him back though as he's a sidhe murderer. The sidhe will allow Sophia to return to Avalon if Aulfric sacrifices the soul of a prince. Conveniently they know someone called Arthur. In a moment of pure ham Aulfric begins to laugh maniacally. Mwahahahaha!

Merlin meets up with Gaius and they check their big book of monsters to look up the sidhe. The book doesn't offer any advice though. Usually it gives them the creature of the week's weakness but this time, nothing.

Arthur asks Uther for permission to marry Sophia. Uther laughs it off and threatens to cut off Aulfric and Sophia's heads to stop the wedding. Awesome. Uther encourages Arthur to go out and enjoy himself instead. I think Uther should be played by Brian Blessed because then his mood swings would be even more hilarious than they are now. Morgana almost tells Uther about her psychic dream but she decides not to. It probably wasn't the best time, I mean the man had just threatened to execute a father and daughter for no reason other than to stop a wedding.

Merlin confronts Arthur, Sophia and Aulfric and tries to break the enchantment with reason. Reason fails in the face of a magic staff though. Aulfric uses Magic Missile to shut Merlin up and knock him out.

Aulfric and Sophia take Arthur down to the lake to drown him...very...slowly. Merlin has enough time to recover consciousness and run into the forest after them. He eventually catches the evil couple and uses Sophia's staff to disintegrate Aulfric and then Sophia. I guess they won't be recurring villains. Merlin then completes the hero act by diving into the lake and fishing Arthur out. What a guy.

Merlin and Gaius tend to Arthur who recovers the next day. As Arthur's memory is foggy, Merlin claims that Arthur tried to elope with Sophia and he had to knock him out. Arthur believes this unlikely tale and Merlin takes the blame again when Uther asks why Arthur wasn't at his post that morning. Merlin is placed in the stocks again. Ho ho ho.

Morgana is suspicious of Gaius and Merlin after these events. Does she suspect Merlin's magical abilities? She wakes from another dream at the end of the episode but we don't find out what it is...

Next episode - EVIL CHILD! CGI DRAGON RETURNS!

Why does this show not have room for two female characters? It seems that if one of the girls is in a storyline, the other must be placed in a cupboard and forgotten about. Still, it was nice to see more of Morgana even if she didn't really get to do all that much apart from look concerned and sleep.