Monday, 22 December 2008

Free Games! (In Lieu Of Content)


In this world of decaying financial empires and imploding economies it’s good to know that free games are still available. If you find yourself on a long journey, or trapped in a house with relatives trying to regale you with their medical histories, this list of links may provide you with some relief. All of these games should play just fine on any old laptop or decrepit desktop PC.

Minotaur in a China Shop

GOG’s Beneath A Steel Sky and Lure Of The Temptress giveaway

Peggle Extreme on Steam


Deathworm!

Carrion Reanimating

There’s tons of stuff out there but the games above are some of my personal favourites.

Look! It's The Return of Hitman Panels!



You have to click on it or you won't be able to read the funny words.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Le Morte d'Arthur OR The End Of Season CGI Spectacular



It's the final episode of Merlin so grab your hankies, dry your tears and feast upon my snark.

The episode starts with Arthur and an entourage of Redcloaks wandering through the forest on a hunting expedition. For some reason Arthur has brought along Merlin who is always useless in this situation. Arthur should probably hire a proper squire rather than using his clueless servant for every task. But hey, he hasn't learned this after 13 episodes so he probably never will.

Suddenly a large CGI monster bursts out of the woods and surprisingly it doesn't look too bad. It's a cross between a snake and erm, a lion or a tiger? It does look a bit like something that would appear in World of Warcraft only more expensive. Anyway whatever it is it charges after the knights who promptly decide to RUN AWAY! Unfortunately Sire Bedivere is a Redcloak so he gets eaten by the beast. Arthur and Merlin don't really look that bothered about it.



The titles roll for the last time, enjoy the sights of the various dodgy monsters and lots of CGI fire.

Back at Camelot Gaius dips into his Monster Manual again and starts to waffle on about the Questing Beast. It seems this monster is a herald of upheaval and the last time it appeared was when Uther's wife died. Uther doesn't heed the warning though as he's an arrogant douche. Gaius tells Merlin that the Questing Beast's bite will cause death and there is no known cure.

Later on Morgana makes a scene when she has one of her rare and unused-unless-it's-vital-to-the-plot prophetic dreams. She panics in front of Arthur's troops during Arthur's rousing speech about monster killing. She warns Arthur not to go on the hunt but he ignores her crazy wailing.

Arthur takes Merlin along again (to be used as monster bait?) and they track the monster to a cave. At this point Merlin hears a hissing sound, "What's that?" he asks knowing full well that the Questing Beast HAS A SNAKE FOR A HEAD. I hope the Questing Beast kills Merlin instead of Arthur then we could focus on the adventures of Gaius Meldrew instead. It'd be like a fantasy version of One Foot In The Grave, think about it, it'd be awesome.

The creature manages to sneak up behind the bumbling duo and Arthur promptly waves his sword at it. As it's a fight between an actor and a piece of CGI there's no real contact between the two so the fight is pretty lame. Arthur is eventually swiped aside by the creature's talons. Merlin uses his telekinesis to thrust Arthur's sword into the Questing Beast's neck which kills it.

Unfortunately Arthur has been poisoned and will die. For reals. Honest. There's lots of angst, teary expressions and the traditional body-being-carried-by-someone-who-eventually-drops-to-their-knees scene.



Arthur isn't quite dead though, so Merlin tries some magic which doesn't work. He decides to expand the budget on the episode by visiting the John Hurt CGI dragon. The dragon tells Merlin about the 'Old Religion' and that it is the key to finding a cure for Arthur. The dragon advises Merlin to visit the Isle of The Blessed to find a cure.

Merlin informs Gaius of his plan to visit the magic isle but Gaius warns Merlin not to go as the price will be to high for Arthur's life. Gaius Merldrew can't stop Merlin from going so he gives Merlin a lucky rabbit's foot which was a gift from Merlin's mother. Why Gaius didn't give him this foot earlier during the many other dangerous missions isn't explained. Maybe Gaius has been using it at the bookies?

Merlin sets off to the Isle to the tune of John Hurt's voice. Meanwhile Gwen visits Arthur and tends to his comatose form. She starts to talk to him about the 'man inside him' and some other sentimental nonsense about destiny. At least she's talking to Arthur now, this hasn't been "will they, won't they" it's been more "do they know each other at all".

Merlin reaches a shore and can see the CGI isle. He jumps in a boat with no oars. Luckily for Merlin he knows telekinesis otherwise he'd have to swim. Merlin floats around the moat of some old castle until he finds a stone circle and Nimueh (Michelle Ryan)! Nimueh asks the question, "Do you know who I am?" Of course he does! You tried to kill him in an earlier episode! I guess the question is for the audience so those who have very short memories or are watching Merlin for the first time can be reminded or informed. Still, it's a very clumsy way of doing it.

The Bionic Woman produces the Holy Grail (sorry the Cup Of Inconvenient Life) and gives Merlin some magic water to use to cure Arthur. Unfortunately the deal is a life for a life so Merlin offers his own life and then merrily rides off thinking that he has nobly sacrificed himself.

Merlin delivers the cure and Arthur recovers. Morgana decides to act all weird again (because the writers haven't given her anything to do) and she tells Merlin that "this is only the beginning". Well, that was vague enough to mean something and yet nothing. Arthur tells Gwen that he heard everything she said while he was in a coma but Gwen becomes embarrassed and runs off.

Gaius is suspicious of Merlin's deal and Merlin is concerned as he hasn't dropped dead yet. A cloaked, hunched figure wanders into Camelot later that night (the guards don't bother to stop or question it, making me think they're exchange guards from Robin Hood). The figure turns out to be Merlin's mum and she's covered in boils. It seems that Merlin's deal was twisted by Nimueh and it's now Merlin's mother who will die instead. Oh well, his mum did abandon him and banish him from his home so it's not like she's Parent of the Year or anything.

Merlin visits the dragon who informs him that he couldn't allow Merlin to die so he made sure that his mother would perish instead. Merlin doesn't take this news well and vows to ensure that the dragon will never be released from his subterranean prison. The dragon then decides to breathe on Merlin:



That looks expensive doesn't it? Anyway, Merlin uses Fire Shield to resist the dragon's breath and vows that he'll never see the dragon again. Sounds like they've broken up.

It's at this point things get a bit silly as Merlin wants to go back to swap his life for his mother's. The druids on the Isle of the Blessed must get really tired of people visiting, trading their lives and then other people turning up and counter trading. It must get very complicated.

Merlin says his goodbyes to Arthur and calls him a prat. Unfortunately Arthur does not respond by kicking Merlin's ass. However, whilst Merlin has been getting teary eyed over Arthur, Gaius has sneaked out to the isle instead of Merlin. Merlin discovers a note left by Gaius and decides to ride after him so they can fight over who will sacrifice himself.

Gaius talks to Nimueh and offers his life which is surprising to Nimueh as she apparently would never have foreseen it. Guess she doesn't watch the show.

Merlin arrives just in time to see Nimueh seemingly finish the ritual over Gaius's prone, dead form. Merlin is all angry and stuff so he casts Magic Missile at Nimueh. She responds by offering to team up with Merlin so that together they can rule the galaxy (sorry world, it's just that this scene seems to have been lifted from Return of the Jedi). Merlin refuses so Nimueh zaps him with a Fireball spell. Merlin responds by casting Lightning Bolt and disintegrates Nimueh.



Merlin finds Gaius's body and cries, "NAAAAWWWWWWW!" He messes up the traditional cry of "Noooooooo!" I don't believe it.

Don't worry though because Gaius is miraculously okay. Hurrah!

The dragon isn't happy though and throws a tantrum. His shouting and crying awakens Morgana...

So that's the end of Merlin series one. It wasn't a terrible show by any means and sometimes it had some interesting ideas and themes. On the whole though it suffered from being formulaic and predictable. There are some solid foundations for the future of the show and hopefully next time it will be more ambitious. Next season's dynamic could be interesting if Morgana becomes the new protege of the dragon and starts to learn magic.

TV Snark will return next year when Robin Hood's third season begins, and boy am I looking forward to that! I'll be filling the time between then with my usual collection of reviews and comic panels so stay tuned.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: To Kill the King OR Everybody Hates Uther And Then They Suddenly Change Their Mind


The episode begins with Tom the Blacksmith (you may remember him as Gwen's dad or you may not as he doesn't do a lot on this show and he never will) visiting his daughter Gwen to give her a shiny new dress. Seems that Tom has come into some money and can afford to buy his daughter nice dresses that she can wear whilst scrubbing floors and fetching water for ungrateful nobles. Tom has some shady new job that pays well, I'm sure it won't go horribly wrong.

Oops, spoke too soon! Later that night a Shady Man turns up at Tom's smithy and uses a magic stone to turn lead into gold. He's a Shady Alchemist! No sooner has the molten gold begun to cool then Arthur and his men burst into the smithy to arrest Tom. Shady Man uses a cloud of smoke to escape, sadly he doesn't laugh manically as he disappears, he opts to run away instead. I wonder who told Arthur that Shady Man (or Tauran as he's called) was visiting the blacksmith? Maybe it was Gwen? She probably wants to inherit the smithy so she can make swords for her and Morgana so they can run around being action grrrrrls. Merlin's plot device sense is tingling as the use of powerful magic wakes him from his sleep. Of course, this doesn't matter as Gwen immediately appears and tells Merlin that her dad has been arrested. The writer's are being really lazy this week.

Uther refuses to release Tom as he insist that the law must be upheld and Tom must die. Arthur and Morgana manage to convince Uther to at least hold a trial first before killing Tom, which is more than any other sorcerors have got on this show so far.

Gaius Meldrew then dispenses fantasy knowledge of the week as he explains what alchemy is to Merlin. Thanks for the knowledge Gaius. Morgana decides to investigate the smithy and finds Shady Man's magic alchemy stone (the Philosopher's Stone?). Morgana then decides that Tom won't get a fair trial so she sneaks a prison key to Tom and suggests he use it to escape. It's at this point he pulls a very funny face in an excellent piece of overacting. I'm sorry but Tom (David Durham) is really poor in these scenes and he comes across as a mentally slow, gentle giant. Unfortunately, he's supposed to be the best blacksmith in the land and the father of the future queen of England. Here's his face after receiving the key, is he shocked? Has he seen a rat in the corner of his cell? Or does he have a cell mate beckoning him to his bunk? Who knows.



Morgana's plan gets Tom killed of course. At this point the audience should be sad but as we've hardly ever seen Tom over the course of the past twelve episodes, it's a little hard to drum up any feelings. Tom's death is just a catalyst for Morgana to go a bit stroppy and slightly-but-not-very-evil-at-all for an episode because Uther commanded that Tom be killed on sight.

Gwen sees Tom's corpse being carried across the courtyard so she gets to yell, "Nooooo!" and "Faaaaatherrrr!" Brilliant because it reminded me of Matt Berry yelling it in The IT Crowd (excuse the strange foreign dubbing but this was the best clip I could find of it on YouTube.)

FATHER!

Anyway, Morgana is angry. This is her angry face.



She talks to Uther which gets her thrown in the dungeon. That'll teach her to express her opinions! Uther resists cackling and rubbing his hands together, which is a shame.

Arthur shows that he's a slightly decent person and apologises to Gwen and offers his services should she need anything (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). He wasn't decent enough to stand up to his dad and stop him killing Tom though was he?

Shady Man visits Gwen in the night and demands she return his stone to the Darkling Woods in 48 hours. I'm pretty sure you can reach that place in World of Warcraft by jumping on a flying bat, should only take five minutes. Gaius Meldrew checks his Dungeon Master's Guide and finds that the stone in question is called The Mage Stone and is ancient and powerful and blah, blah.

Arthur releases Morgana early from her imprisonment which earns grudging thanks from her. Morgana finds out that Gwen is scared of returning home because she fears Shady Man. Morgana decides to visit Shady Man in Darkling Woods and return his Mage Stone during the night. Merlin's plot device sense is tingling again and he wakes up and follows Morgana into the woods.

Morgana meets Shady Man and his cohorts in the woods and offers to bring Uther to a suitable spot so they can assassinate him. Shady Man is a little disappointed as he was going to use his magic gold to bribe someone into killing Uther. Morgana's method costs nothing so they go for that instead. Merlin overhears all of this and struggles with the ethical dilemma of letting someone assassinate the asshole who'll kill him if he ever catches him using magic.

Merlin visits CGI John Hurt in his dragon lair. The dragon suggests that Merlin let Uther die and free the land from tyranny. Well duh Merlin, it's been obvious that the dragon wants Uther dead since episode one. Pay attention kid!

Morgana makes a fake apology to Uther so she can reminisce about her dead father. It turns out that Uther sent her father to his death in some war or other. This eventually leads to Morgana suggesting that she and Uther visit her father's grave so they can pay their respects. Uther isn't even slightly suspicious at Morgana's about face despite the fact she did the same thing a few weeks ago during the Mordred incident.

Merlin discusses the morality of allowing Uther to die with his mentor Gaius (who gives an intelligent argument about kings making hard choices and Arthur unreadiness for the role) and Gwen (who provides the moral argument that killing Uther would provide no comfort to her and make the perpetrator as ruthless and uncaring as Uther). Gwen's argument sways Merlin and he heads off to stop the assassination.

Uther and Morgana visit the grave in the middle of some empty field somewhere. The Shady Man and his goons wait in ambush but Merlin arrives to save the day. There's even a bit of continuity as Merlin takes with him the Magic Missile wand from the evil fairies episode. He uses the wand to zap all of the goons apart from Shady Man who uses his Mage Stone to deflect Merlin's spell and incapacitate him.



Fortunately for Uther he manages to admit regret at Tom's death and he talks up Morgana's father enough to make Morgana realise that she doesn't want Uther dead. She's so fickle. Shady Man tries to stab Uther but Morgana interferes and ends up stabbing Shady Man in the back which kills him. So ends the revolution.

And that's basically it. Morgana decides she doesn't want to see Uther dead and pushes those feelings of hatred deep down inside where they'll probably later manifest as dressing really sluttily and learning dark magic.

Next Week - Arthur dies! For reals! Well okay, probably not but it is the last episode.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: The Labyrinth of Gedref OR The Labyrinth That's More of a Hedge Maze



Yeah, yeah, I'm late. Let's just get started shall we?

The episode begins in a forest, Arthur and some nameless extras pad through the forest in search of hunting trophies. Merlin tags along and is used to flush an unknown creature out of the undergrowth. As usual Merlin complains about the orders given to him by his master and prince, presumably because he still hasn’t grasped the whole feudalism concept.

The creature turns out to be a unicorn with an emo fringe, check it out:



If the unicorn dyed its fringe black and wore a checkered tie it could start its own band, ‘Blood All Over My Girlfriend’ or ‘Mythical Sadness’ perhaps?

Arthur ends the emo unicorn’s life with a crossbow bolt, despite Merlin’s protests. A stereotypical wizard briefly appears behind Arthur but disappears before anyone but Merlin sees him. Arthur is proud of his kill as he descends into the dickish behaviour he exhibited at the beginning of the series. This seems to be an episode that would have been better served appearing earlier in the show’s run, especially as it came a week after Merlin and Arthur declared themselves to be BFF after defending Merlin’s home village.

Roll titles.

Arthur takes the unicorn’s horn back to Camelot to show off to Uther who is suitably impressed. Gaius Meldrew isn't impressed though as he's read the unicorn entry in his Dungeon Master's Guide and says that a curse is usually forced on those who kill a unicorn. Then the kingdom’s crops fail overnight. Oh no, come-uppance!

Uther says it's food rationing time and the citizens of Camelot promptly go batshit and start stealing looting. Because there's been no clear indication of the passage of time, it seems that the citizens start panicking about five minutes after the crops fail. Uther loves this as it gives him an excuse to execute people. Gwen makes a token appearance so she can operate the water pump to show that the water has been turned to sand. She also mentions that Arthur's great, so there's the seeds of the Gwen and Arthur romance. Merlin tries to use his magic to turn sand into water but he can't do it because this would be a pretty short episode otherwise.

Arthur and Merlin are wandering the streets at night when they see the stereotypical wizard appear in a doorway. After some tedious padding - sorry, frantic searching for the magic, teleporting wizard, he appears before them. His name is Anhora and he's the keeper of the unicorns. I guess he's not very good at his job seeing as he didn't stop Arthur from killing one of his charges. Anhora informs Arthur that the land is cursed because of his equine-icide. Arthur tries to arrest Anhora (because he's an idiot) but Anhora teleports away again.

Then there's a comedy scene that makes no sense. Gaius makes tea out of Merlin's bath water. What? Why is he having a bath during a drought?! Surely the water wasted in bathing could have been used to, hmmmm... let me see, STAY ALIVE?!

Later that night Merlin has been assigned to watch over the food stores, I assume because now he's been promoted to guard duty. Arthur catches him sleeping and tells him off but then they hear the sound of an intruder. It turns out to be a peasant called Evan who has an extremely bizarre accent. I don't know what it's supposed to be, Danish? Whatever it is, Evan manages to spin a story about stealing food to feed his children. Arthur decides to let him go with the grain because sometimes he's a nice guy but a bit of an idiot. Evan the mysterious peasant tells Arthur that mercy will be its own reward.

The next morning the water returns to Camelot. Merlin explains to Arthur that his merciful actions toward the peasant caused the water to come back. Merlin then convinces Arthur to wander back into the forest and look for Anhora. Before they set off, there's time for Merlin to catch a rat and feed it to Arthur in a stew and then they feed it to Morgana. Ho ho ho!

Arthur and Merlin wander the forest looking for Anhora and Arthur stumbles across Evan the strangely accented peasant. Evan doesn't have a family, he has a big stash of food! He was a dirty liar after all. Evan insults Arthur and declares him an unworthy heir. Arthur gets wound up by the taunting and challenges Evan to a duel. Arthur wins but Evan disappears before he can land the killing blow. Anhora appears and informs Arthur that he has failed the test. The test was pride, for those of you not paying attention.

Arthur has made the curse worse as the remaining food stores turn to dust. Uther decides to stop distributing food to the peasants as he wants to keep his army fed. I'm sure his neighbours will be desperate to conquer a land in the middle of a famine. Arthur refuses to give the order to stop distributing the food and Uther replies by blaming Arthur for not catching and killing the sorcerer. That Uther, he's all about the killing and being evil for no good reason.

Merlin visits Anhora in the forest and begs him to give Arthur another chance at passing the curse removal test. Anhora agrees to give Arthur a final test but failure will result in death. Dun, dun, dun....

Arthur seizes the chance to take the test again and rides once more into the forest (they're getting their money's worth out of that location this week). Arthur finds a giant hedge maze in the countryside. Strange that no-one's mentioned that place before, it's massive.



Arthur steps into the rather unimpressive on close inspection maze and wanders around a bit. Merlin goes in after him but gets captured by Anhora and his magic vines. Arthur eventually finds his way out of the not very perilous maze to find a beach with a table and two goblets.

Anhora informs Arthur that one of the cups contains poison and the other contains a harmless liquid (which could be anything, orange juice, milkshake, monkey semen). Arthur and Merlin must drink one of the goblets, one will live, the other will die! It takes the bickering couple ages to deduce that they can simply pour the contents of both goblets into one so that only one of them has to drink. Arthur insists on drinking the mixture of poison and the 'harmless' liquid and downs it in one.

Arthur collapses onto the ground - he's dead! Oh well, guess this series is over. I'd like to thank you for reading my recaps and - Oh, wait. Arthur is merely sleeping, it seems that the harmless liquid combined with the poison to make a sleeping draught. Arthur's always being drugged into unconsciousness, there's probably some horrible slash fiction out there about it. *shudder*

So Arthur passed the test, the land is restored, everyone can eat again, and the emo unicorn comes back to life. Emo unicorn probably doesn't appreciate that though, because well, he's emo. Hurrah for Arthur. The lesson is that it's okay to kill a rare creature as long as you're eventually sorry about it and not to worry because it'll magically resurrect itself anyway.

Next episode - Everybody hates Uther.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Game Review – Left 4 Dead




Format: PC / Xbox 360

Plot: You are one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse faced with certain death in a zombie infested city, you must work together to reach safety.

Pros:

It’s terrifying. The first time you wander into a darkened room with only a narrow circle of illumination from your flashlight to rely on, is the first time you know fear in this game. That feeling stays with you throughout the game. The zombies can appear from anywhere at any time, baying for your blood and smashing their way through doors, climbing fences and generally making a nuisance of themselves. You will come to fear the zombie known only as the Witch…

The special zombies are devious inventions. There are thousands of regular zombies on each level but dotted throughout the course at cinematically appropriate times are the specials. There’s the Smoker, a long tongued bastard that grabs you and pulls you away from the rest of the group. There’s nothing worse than being pulled away from your team as they fight off a regular zombie horde, blissfully unaware that you’re slowly choking to death. That’s why you need to play with a headset and microphone, so you can scream for your life when the Smoker gets you in a dark corner. The Hunter is a malevolent hoodie who crawls around on all fours and leaps great distances toward you, pounces on you and brutally tears away at you as you lie prone and helpless. The Tank is a big mass of muscle that can throw cars, masonry and chunks of floor at you and he will not stop until you are dead. He’s a bastard and he’s extremely hard to kill. The Boomer is a grossly overweight zombie who waddles up to you and vomits all over your face if you let him. If you kill him up close then he explodes all over you and covers you in vomit. The vomit is a special chunky mixture that attracts hordes of zombies, nice. Finally, the Witch rounds out the specials, she’s the one you don’t want to see…ever. She can generally be found weeping in the most awkward place possible. You see, the problem with the Witch is that you can avoid her and not unleash the screaming, clawing, whirlwind of death she becomes but sometimes she’s sitting directly in your path and must be destroyed. Of course killing her before she’s inflicted a significant amount of damage to one of the group is a challenge.

The AI (The Director) provides incredibly cinematic moments. The AI is designed to gauge your performance and decide when and how to attack you for maximum effect. If your team has taken minimal damage and is toting lots of ammunition, the Director will probably withhold an ammo resupply point so it can watch you run low and then throw a Tank or a Witch at you. The Director is evil but he doesn’t want you dead, he wants you to get to the end of the level through teamwork and good play and he won’t make it easy for you. The end of each level always features a dramatic last stand as your team waits for extraction from the zombie filled hell-hole as a multitude of cadavers races toward you, eager to tear off your face. The airport level features an in game event that is simply breathtaking when first viewed.

Cooperation and teamwork is essential. This is a game where the presence of four players is the preferred method of play rather than an exception. It’s nice to see an online shooter where cooperation against the AI is mandatory and, most importantly, fun.

The audio is fantastic. The zombies cry, moan and sometimes seem to form words. The special zombies have their own distinct sounds so you always have an audio cue that one of them is around. The Witch is the most terrifying sound of all, her piteous wailing and crying is extremely disturbing especially as you simultaneously want to and yet don’t want to find the source of the noise.

The storyline is conveyed through graffiti and signs. The developers, Valve, have decided to tell the game’s story through the poignant and sometimes hilarious graffiti and notes left by previous survivors. You’ll find theories on the zombies’ origins, facts about the zombie infection and messages left behind for loved ones. It basically boils down to a collection of very nice easter eggs to be found and read in between the panic and headshots.



Cons:

The single player campaign is pretty redundant. You can play offline with a bots playing the roles of the survivors. This is nice for practicing levels and getting used to the layouts but it’s a pale shadow of the real experience that is found in multiplayer co-op. The bots are slightly competent but they don’t lead the line or clear rooms for you, making them pretty rubbish really.

It keeps crashing my PC upon exit. This happens to me almost all the time. I don’t know why it happens but it’s very annoying. I blame Vista.

The selection of weapons is small.
The firearms are well done as they all seem to look and feel different but perhaps there should’ve been a couple more weapons to choose from. A chainsaw would be fun…

Other people can sometimes suck. If you play random pick up groups you may end up with idiots. I don’t mean poor players (I’m not exactly brilliant, I tend to lurk at the back picking off zombies and generally being a cowardy custard) but players that blunder around, startling Witches and getting themselves constantly incapacitated. So yeah, the standard playing online advice stands, find some reliable friends or join one of the many Steam groups (on PC) available.

(Special Simon Pegg con!) Fast zombies. Because you might have a problem with the whole running zombie concept.

Overall:

Left 4 Dead takes the zombie cliché and makes it a fresh, dynamic experience. This game is simply pure, adrenaline fuelled entertainment combined with a social life.


Arbitrary Score out of Ten: 8/10

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 clich√© 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.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: A Remedy To Cure All Ills OR I Pereferred The Brain Slugs In Star Trek II

Hello everyone, I'm back from my jaunt to London village and can now present you with the late, but (hopefully) as entertaining as ever, Merlin recap.



This week's special guest star is Doctor Mac from Green Wing. He is working in a lab and whispering magic words to a box full of bugs. He places one of the insects into an orchid and summons Interflora to deliver the bouquet to Morgana. Maybe she'll do something in this episode? She doesn't do much in this scene as she goes to bed and then the bug crawls into her ear. During this process there is an incredibly bad and unnecessary use of CGI.



THEN:



Why didn't they use a real bug? Was the actress squeamish or couldn't they find a trained insect to crawl across her face? After all, the bug was trained well enough to crawl across the bed and a pillow in the right direction, why not let it finish the scene? It just seems to be an expensive way of achieving an effect that would have looked better if done for real.

Anyway, cut to main titles where the only thing we haven't seen from there so far is the undead looking monster guy. He doesn't look as crap as the Avanc was so I'm not that excited.

Meanwhile back in Camelot, two days have passed whilst the audience has been gawking at the titles. Morgana has been in a coma for all of that time and Gaius has been trying to cure her. Gaius Meldrew uses terms like 'coma' and 'inflammation of the brain' which makes him some medieval medical marvel (try saying that five times fast).

Edwin Muirden (our guest star of the week) appears at Camelot and requests an audience with Uther. Arthur tells him to do one as he already has a physician. Plus there's no room in Camelot for ugly people.

A day later (time is really flying between scenes this episode) Arthur suddenly champions the suspicious Edwin when Gaius Meldrew announces that he can't think of any other treatments. Edwin appears in court and offers his amazing remedy (or perhaps, Marvellous Medicine?) that cures all ills. Arthur offers Edwin the use of Merlin so that Merlin can conveniently discover Edwin's fascination with alchemy.

Edwin banishes everyone from Morgana's room so that he can cure her. At no point does he explain what he's going to do but everyone takes him at his word and leaves. Well, apart from Gaius who wants to learn from a fellow physician, but he too is banished. As Edwin begins his magic, Gwen enters the room from another door but she is quickly thrown out by Edwin. This is so that Gwen has something to do in this episode as the writers' inability to cater for Morgana spreads to Gwen.

Edwin recalls his brain eating bug and cures Morgana. He also suggests that Gaius mis-diagnosed Morgana's condition and suggests that Gaius' treatment would have eventually killed her. Morgana has instantly awoken from her brain bug coma and is absolutely fine for someone whose brain has been munched on for 3 days. Gaius is suspicious of Edwin and tries to ask whether he has treated Edwin's face previously, Edwin insists that he doesn't know Gaius thus ensuring that Gaius will become even more suspicious.

Gaius visits the librarian from a previous episode. The librarian has graduated to recurring character and therefore he now has a name - Geoffrey. Say hello to Geoff the Librarian everyone! Gaius wants Geoff to get out the special records from before The Purge so he can check into Edwin's past. Geoff doesn't want to lose his job so he turns Gaius down.

Merlin wanders into Edwin's quarters because he's nosy and likes trespassing. Merlin finds the box of bugs and reads the magic inscription on the box that animates the insects. Unfortunately for Merlin, Edwin was home and saw everything. Edwin reveals his magic powers by using telekinesis on some blue dust (yawn) and tries to tempt Merlin to the Dark Side with an offer of knowledge sharing. He doesn't offer cookies though so I don't think it will work. Edwin makes Merlin promise to keep his magic powers secret as they're magic buddies now.

Geoff reappears and gives Gaius the records he wanted. I guess Geoff wanted to appear in another scene so by refusing Gaius the records the first time he could appear again. Cunning.

Edwin tells Uther that Gaius is recommending drugs that may have caused Morgana's illness. Uther approves Edwin's research into Gaius's other treatments as he fears old man Meldrew is losing the plot.

Gaius confronts Edwin with the knowledge that Edwin's parents were sorcerers who were burnt alive by Uther. Edwin confesses and makes clear his plan to kill Uther. Edwin prevents Gaius from going straight to Uther with this knowledge as he threatens to reveal Merlin's magical talents to Uther. Gaius folds in the face of blackmail and stays quiet.

Edwin goes back to Uther and makes Gaius out to be an incompetent old man. Uther offers Edwin the job of physician to replace Gaius Meldrew. Morgana gets to appear again and state the case for Gaius then she disappears again. To be fair, Arthur has done next to nothing in this episode either because it's all been about Gaius and Edwin.

Gaius Meldrew goes to the CGI dungeon to visit the John Hurt dragon. The dragon isn't very sympathetic as Uther is his jailer so his health isn't a priority of his. He then mocks Gaius for turning a blind eye during The Purge. Burn! Guess there was no sagely wisdom available this week.

Gaius is then summoned to Uther's court and fired. What a day. Gaius sadly leaves the court and says his goodbyes to Merlin. Merlin is all sad and stuff but there's nothing he can do as he doesn't know that Gaius is being blackmailed into leaving.

Edwin leaps into action (before Gaius has even left the building) and recommends that Uther use a different painkiller for his old war wound. It's a remedy that cures all ills. So that'd be death then.

Gaius bumps into Gwen on his way out so that she has something to do in this episode. Gwen tries to encourage Gaius to stay and tell Uther about Edwin. Gwen has come to the conclusion that Edwin is evil because:

1. She saw him stood over her mistress when he was officially treating her.
2. He was a bit mean to her and made her fetch some water.
3. He cured her mistress of a fatal condition.

As you can see, it's pretty easy to get on the wrong side of the future Mrs. Pendragon. Using knowledge that only a copy of the script can provide, she tries to get Gaius to stay but he's determined to look sad and traipse off.

A scene change later and Uther takes his new special medicine and is suddenly paralysed. Edwin gloats over his prone form as he fetches the brain eating bugs and places one in Uther's brain.

Before Edwin can escape Gaius appears (he had only just left Camelot I suppose) and tries to use magic but cocks it up because he forgets the words. Edwin summons fire to encircle Gaius and menace him without actually hurting him. Merlin enters the room and sees his mentor in danger. Edwin tries to tempt Merlin to the Dark Side again but Merlin refuses and after a brief telekinetic duel, buries an axe in Edwin's head. He's gone to guest star heaven now.

Merlin then uses magic to save Uther's life and remove the brain bug from his head. This is achieved via glowing eyes and tugging on the king's ears. Uther is saved and in gratitude he gives Gaius his job back and makes him a freeman. Hurrah.

Next week - Arthur is in peril due to EVIL FAIRIES!

This episode was more of the same, a cast member in mortal peril due to illness/poison (again), an evil magic using guest star (again), and a pointless dragon appearance (again). It's all very safe and formulaic but also boring. It's competent entertainment but competent isn't good, it's vanilla, average, dull. Still, evil fairies next week, that should be good for a laugh if nothing else.