Month: March 2017

Logan

With the success of last year’s Deadpool Fox felt confident enough that higher rated, violent and sweary superhero films were a viable option. And so, we have Logan. Leading this year’s selection of superhero films (well, as long as you don’t count Lego Batman) it has a 15 rating in the UK and is intended to be the last appearance of both Hugh Jackman’s Logan as well as Patrick Stewart Charles Xavier.

Loosely inspired by the comic series Old Man Logan, Logan is set in 2029 which puts it about 15 years after we last saw any of the characters. While the world isn’t post apocalyptic like the story that inspired it, Logan does take place in a world without the X-Men or indeed any other superhero team.

After hanging up his tights, Logan now works as a for hire limo driver in New Mexico to make enough money to care for an old and ill Charles Xavier. Circumstances bring the mysterious Laura into their care and together they set off on a road trip to help her escape pursuit from the villainous Reavers led by Donald Pierce.

As a higher rated film than the usual superhero fare, Logan is incredibly violent with huge numbers of people being brutally stabbed and sliced apart. This really is how you’d expect Logan to fight all the time, but he’s usually substantially toned down due to the rating of the media he’s appearing in.

Director James Mangold, who also helmed the previous solo Wolverine movie, delivers a massive improvement over his last. I didn’t really care for The Wolverine at all, particularly the giant mech version of the Silver Samurai as the final fight. This time Mangold writes as well as directs, and it’s clear that this was a wise move.

Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart are both, unsurprisingly, excellent. Their depictions of older, broken versions of their respective characters both ring true and you can really feel the bond between the two. The characters and their actors have both been linked for nearly two decades and, aside from maybe Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, arguably no actors have been so definitively and excellently cast. Newcomer Dafne Keen is also pretty good as Laura, and has great chemistry with both of the leads.

A lot of people seem to be treating Logan as the end of an era, and with Hugh Jackman being the most prolific actor in a single role in superhero cinema it’s not hard to see why. After all, during Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine we’ve had three Spider-Men, two Batmen, two Supermen and so on. Jackman’s presence in the X-Men films has been a constant throughout and while some of the films have been of.. questionable quality it’s been rather reassuring to see him appear every couple of years.

My biggest regret is that Fox never followed up on the ending of Days of Future past. The revised timeline that has Cyclops and Jean Grey survive made me really hope we’d get to see all of the original X-Men cast back in action as the characters and as a team working together for the first time since X-Men 2 and with Jackman retiring (at least for now, maybe someone will drive a dump truck full of money to his house to get him back one day) it seems that that’s something we’ll never see which is a shame.

But, none of that is Logan’s fault and certainly don’t detract from it in the slightest. A most enjoyable film and a great sendoff to the iconic comic movie character of the early 21st century.

Games Backlog – Abyss Odyssey

When I’m not at home playing Zelda (maybe a Switch would have been a good idea after all, so I could play at work!) I’ve been continuing my Steam backlog. The next game to catch my attention was ACE Team’s Abyss Odyssey. Another of the many hundreds of Humble Bundle games added to my library and promptly forgotten about, I first mistook Abyss Odyssey for a Metroidvania as it rather looks like one from a brief glimpse of gameplay but it’s actually a roguelike righting game.

After a short prologue that sets up the story of a corrupted Warlock becoming controlled by his powers and falling to madness, you can begin exploring the titular Abyss. You make your way down through a number of floors through monsters of increasing difficulty with the goal of making your way to the Warlock and beating him.

At first you’re only able to play as Katrien, a fast character with a rapier but as you progress you unlock the second character in the Ghost Monk who has stronger attacks in a samurai style. You also open up some additional entrances into the Abyss that start you further down meaning you have less floors to conquer, but they’re typically harder. A final character, La Pincoya, can be earned by donating money to her fountain which can be found on each trip into the Abyss by entering the yellow room that can be seen on the maps you find dotted around.

As well as standard enemies, there are several bosses that appear with major ones that have unique appearances marked on the map while other bosses are shadows of the playable characters. The bosses tend to be quite a bit more difficult than standards enemies as you’d expect, and will likely put an end to your run the first couple of times you encounter them.

You can collect improved weapons and equipment, either by simply finding it as you progress through the Abyss or by buying them from one of the many shopkeepers that you find, and defeating enemies also increases your character level though as far as I can tell this only increases your health and not attack strength – and its not refilled when you level up either which feels somewhat unusual. The characters also each have a number of special attacks that unlock as you level. If your character is killed you then take control over a soldier, who is tasked with finding an altar to bring the hero back. The soldiers are much less powerful so the priority really does become getting to an altar as quickly as possible as your run will be over if the soldier dies.

Fighting in Abyss Odyssey is surprisingly complex. In addition to standard attacks from simply pressing the button, there are also directional attacks from pushing in a direction while attacking as well as jump attacks. You can also dodge left or right, with a well timed dodge giving you a powered attack on an enemy us you can counter and throw enemies.

Abyss Odyssey also has a really nice art style and the character animations are very fluid, particularly the playable characters. There are a few different floor designs, and the lighting effects from the background on some of them are pretty great. The music is also quite good, while not being anything too over the top.

I’m a little worried that I’ve managed three fun games in a row from my backlog, I’m sure there must be some rubbish ones in there and my good luck so far means that the next one’s likely to be a total stinker..

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – First Impressions

With my early hardware adopter days far behind me, I’ve picked up the WiiU version of Breath of the Wild. Thankfully, initial reports that the game’s performance is drastically lacking were somewhat exaggerated. Yes, it runs in 720p and 30 FPS and yes, it does occasionally dip below that when things get a bit hectic onscreen but not enough to cause any major problems. Considering how low powered the WiiU is by modern standards, it’s very impressive that it plays as well as it does.

I’ll try to be as spoiler free as possible with these early impressions, I’ve played about 4 hours so haven’t really gotten that far into the story yet for that to be a problem. I am however going to mention some gameplay mechanics that were a surprise to me – they may well have been mentioned in pre-release reporting, but I largely avoided that.

Right from the start it’s very far from a typical Zelda game. The traditional three save slots are gone, replaced with a single save and, in a first for the series, there are also auto saves. You don’t get to name your character or save file either, not that that’s a concern for me as my Zelda saves have forever just been Link.

Link wakes up in a mysterious chamber with no memory, and is told through an unknown voice that he’s been asleep for 100 years. On leaving the chamber and emerging onto the windswept Great Plain, he spots an old man who sets him off on his quest in a manner very (intentionally) reminiscent of the original Legend of Zelda.

This Link is much more versatile than the Links of old. He can sprint, climb and jump(!) all of which deplete a stamina bar that quickly refills when you stand still. You can collect and equip weapons and clothing, with weapons having limited durability so that they break quite quickly though that’s not a real problem as there are always plenty more to pick up and Link can carry several spares.

There’s also a cooking and crafting system that I’ve seen faint glimpses on in the text of items, but haven’t yet learnt how to make anything. I have a suspicion that I may have missed something for cooking in the first area, but I’m holding fast in not looking it up to not risk spoiling anything for myself.

It’s also absolutely gorgeous. I’m only in the second area at the moment, so apart from a snowy area near the start most of the landscape that I’ve seen is green grass and trees but it all looks fantastic. Wind blows the grass and leaves on trees, and I’ve seen a couple of rainstorms too. The lighting effects, and particularly fire and the blue glowing Shiekah energy in particular stand out.

Music is used much more subtly than is typical in Zelda games too. Instead of the usual bold themes, it’s largely quiet most of the time, but when you approach some areas such as the Temple of Time near the start you get slight stirrings of familiar Zelda themes in a way that really works for me.

I’m absolutely loving it so far, and can’t wait until I get a good solid 6 hours or so on Sunday to really sink my teeth into it and I’ll most likely talk about it more once I’ve gotten a good way in and/or finished it.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – A Criminal Past

To little fanfare, Eidos Montreal last week released the second and last DLC for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with A Criminal Past. A Criminal Past once again features Adam Jensen, this time recounting a past mission where he went undercover in a maximum security prison.

Given the recent news that Square Enix are, at least temporarily, shelving the Deus Ex series for perceived low sales figures it’s a bit of a shame that this content doesn’t focus on furthering the main series story, or any other pivotal events (the System Rift DLC by comparison involved opening the Palisade network security Breach that’s featured in the arcade mode of the same name) but it’s always good to get more Deus Ex in whatever form it takes.

In order to contact an Interpol agent who himself is deep undercover, Jensen is sent to the groan-inducingly named Penley T. Housefather Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison for augmented criminals. And yes, the ridiculous name is so that it can be nicknamed the Pent House. Sigh. Anyway, on arrival Jensen is implanted with a chip that blocks augmentations (including his sunglasses, the bastards!) giving one of the more reasonable excuses to have to build up your augmentations all over again. I actually didn’t mind it too much here, much less so than the other story DLC that have been released as at least there was an in-game reason for it this time around. After a run in with the prison’s antagonistic head guard Stenger, Jensen is then shipped off to Cell Block A and you take control.

Odds are that if you’re even considering playing a DLC for the game you’ve likely played some Deus Ex before, and there aren’t any real surprises or revelations in how the game plays. Once Jensen is able to roam freely you can embark on exploring the prison, finding air vents and unlockable doors, cameras to disable and guards to knock out/kill depending on your preference. Jensen eventually works his way around all of the areas of the prison to find his contact and then escape.

There are a few optional objectives and points of interest to explore and, as it’s a prison, a lot of the areas are ones where you can’t be spotted or the guards will quickly begin attacking you which raises the stakes of exploration a little.

The prison itself is a somewhat interesting environment, and marks a visual change from the rest of Mankind Divided while still looking consistent with the designs and technology already established. The outdoor areas in particular stand out due to the nice dusty orange that dominates the colour palette which isn’t a colour I think I’ve seen in a Deus Ex before. The indoor areas, while less distinct from the main game, still have their moments with the main cell blocks in particular being rather unique.

Since Jensen is in prison none of the rest of the cast of the game appear (with the exception of Task Force 21’s psychiatrist, who Jensen is narrating the mission to) so there are a handful of new characters who are all fairly unique in their designs. One touch that I did like is that while all the rest of the prisoners wear their prison jumpsuit collars down, Jensen has his up to emulate the look of his iconic trenchcoat.

There are a few new pieces of music present instead of just reusing existing tracks from Mankind Divided. Michael McCann hasn’t contributed anything however, with Sascha Dikiciyan now the only credited composer. His work is fine and fits the tone established by the last two games, but it’s lacking in any of the big themes that McCann is known for.

I think my playthrough clocked it at somewhere around 5 hours and it felt a bit longer than System Rift, though of course with any Deus Ex a lot of playtime is gotten out of exploring everywhere and hacking all the computers and doors – skipping all of this and just going through the main quest will likely get you to the end within an hour or two but you’ll miss much of the experience doing so.

I found A Criminal Past to be an enjoyable addition to Mankind Divided, a game that I already enjoyed a whole lot though sadly more than most, given the sales figures. The Steam global achievement figures paint a pretty bleak picture for the number of players still around and interested to pick up the new content though with less than 1% of players finishing the story.

Hopefully this won’t be the last we see of Jensen or Deus Ex as a whole, as given Eidos Montreal’s plans for the series there’s still a lot left of Jensen’s story to be told. While it’s a bit of a shame that this DLC doesn’t do that, there’s always a place for side stories and I think this one hit the spot fairly well.

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