Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman Arkham Knight

I was going to write a blog post about how I don’t think it’s okay for the Ask EL James hashtag to have been hijacked by people just wanting to be abusive, but then I decided, ‘nah, I’ll write about Batman’.

Everyone is aware that I like games and I like superheroes, so it’s no surprise that I like games about superheroes. The best of these games (not that there are that many) is the Arkham series from developer Rocksteady. There is also the one that the publisher made themselves with their own development studio, but that was a bit rubbish, so we tend not to mention it. But I will mention it. Later.

First, we had Arkham Asylum, which took the gaming world by storm, appearing out of the blue from a little known studio with only one other game under their belt. It had Kevin Conroy, THE voice of Batman; it had Mark Hamill, THE voice of Joker; it had you play as the goddamn Batman (I don’t know why I enjoy quoting that so much). It wasn’t just the best superhero game ever made, it was one of the best games. It had the comic book, animated series feel about it, but was darker and grittier than anything a lot of people had seen from the franchise.

Next came Arkham City, where Batman took to the…well, the city. Rather than being cooped up in the Asylum, he was free to exercise his cape and glide about a large portion of Gotham. Fears that it wouldn’t be able to match up to the original were quickly allayed as it turned out to be even better than the first.

So the news that Rocksteady’s third Arkham game would also be their last was bittersweet. Although it would mean no more Batman from the studio who handled him so well, it also meant that the series was sure to go out with a bang (and that something very exciting might come next). Okay, hearing that Scarecrow would be the main villain of the game was a little bizarre, but with him would come a brand new villain – one that had been created alongside DC Comics themselves: the Arkham Knight.

This mysterious new villain seemed to have styled himself after Batman and looked as though he would be the ultimate match for the Dark Knight. Early trailers showed the Arkham Knight getting the upper hand in fights with Batman, and he seemed to have similar tricks and gadgets. We were all sure it was going to be good.

Well, the short version is: it wasn’t good. In my opinion, anyway.

The long version can’t really be put across without spoilers, so I’ll be sure to mention when they’re coming and start with the non-spoilers. As usual, there is no real structure to my ramblings, so let’s just start with, uhh…

The Batmobile

Batmobile

This looked like a promising addition to the series. The Batmobile is an iconic part of Batman’s arsenal, and so far we had only seen it in a few cutscenes in the other games (or game – I can’t remember if it was in City). Arkham Knight was going to take place in a bigger area than City and so Rocksteady were able to bring in the car. Car/tank, that is. The new Batmobile is one designed for this war that Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight have waged on Batman, and it transforms from car to tank in a fancy second. All the better to deal with those pesky drones driving and flying about (drones – i.e. conveniently unmanned so that Batman can blow them up).

My immediate thought was that the Riddler challenges that were sure to reprise their place in the game would be Batmobile-heavy. I was right. In fact, the entire game is Batmobile-heavy. To the point that several boss fights take place purely between your tank and theirs. Finish enough of the side missions and a new, unexpected villain appears to challenge you. One who is so sure of his skills, he would certainly give you a good fight and definitely wouldn’t cower inside a…why is he in that giant tank?

Yes, taking the place of the unique and varied boss fights is driving about trying to get behind powerful tanks to shoot their weak points, then doing pretty much the same on the boss’ tank. Except that each shot to the boss’ tank has to be followed by driving away very fast because it can somehow keep up with your jet fighter on wheels.

And that’s it. That accounts for most of the boss fights. There are two sneaky, ‘predator’ sections later on against two villains, but as far as I can recall, that’s it. Well, there is the Riddler fight too, but you’re not really fighting him in it. But THAT’S it.

It felt like Rocksteady spent so much time with the Batmobile that they couldn’t bear the thought of it being underused by players, so they forced us to use it over and over and over. In very uninteresting ways. Either that or they spent so much time on it they forgot they had to make the rest of the game.

It shows just how important it was to them that it gets damaged and worn over time, but Batman doesn’t. In the other games, his suit and cape get more ripped as the game goes on, they get dirty, his face gets bruised and cut. Not so in Arkham Knight. Not until the last 5% or so of the story.

I also can’t help but feel it’s a little stupid that you can drive into people, but it’s okay because they’re tased. Yes, tased by the front of a tank driving into them at 100mph. They’ll be perfectly fine. Even though Batman just reversed back over their unconscious bodies multiple times.

Disappearing Acts

Not too far into the story, something happens that causes Commissioner Gordon to get all stroppy with Batman and, at the time he needs the Dark Knight most, tells him to stay the hell away from his family. Makes sense. What also makes sense is that Gordon then disappears for most of the rest of the game. Only in the last two sections of the game does he reappear, with no sign of the temper tantrum he threw earlier.

Something similar could be said of other supporting characters. Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman all make an appearance and are all only in very small sections of the game. Robin has an excuse for most of his absence, but Nightwing is out there in the city, yet only appears to help beat up Penguin’s men and then disappear again. Catwoman is used only as bait. As a damsel in distress. Which I’ll complain about in a minute.

This is war. Batman is being targeted by an army. Where the hell are his allies? He had more help in Arkham City.

Underwhelming Villains

Scarecrow

Scarecrow was an odd choice. It was weird from the start. He’s not one of the more menacing villains in the Batman universe, is he? Maybe Rocksteady wanted to change that. Maybe they were just cashing in on how much people liked the Scarecrow fear-toxin-induced sections in Arkham Asylum. Who knows. They did make him a little more unpleasant this time, but they also made him a lot more sane than he seems to be in anything else – including Asylum. He has a very clear plan, a very clear goal and, it seems, a very clear mind.

But Scarecrow isn’t really the main villain, is he? Or is he? I can’t tell. I thought he was more of a backdrop for the Arkham Knight, who is working for him, but then the Knight seems to take the place as the backdrop. I think the real villain is the demon in Batman’s head. I’ll rant more about the Arkham Knight himself later.

[Potential mild spoilers here] Other villains were in the game – Two-Face, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Firefly, etc. – but they were very badly used. And under-used. They were were the result of completing some side missions. Stop a few bank robberies and Two-Face will show to take you down. There’s not even a boss fight: just take out his men and then do the same for him, just like any other enemy. Destroy enough of Penguin’s weapons caches with Nightwing and he’ll show (in a pretty ridiculous way, I might add) to teach you a lesson. Press one button and he’ll be the next one you’re driving to GCPD. It’s pretty pathetic.

Riddler is both the best and the worst of these side-villains. The others are minding their own business until Batman involves himself, but Riddler comes after Batman, just like he does in the other games. Except this time, he has built a very elaborate series of underground race tracks. Because those count as riddles, right? That’s the way to show that he’s smarter than Batman: make him drive the Batmobile round and round irritating courses. But at least there’s some form of boss fight with him…kind of.

Be The Batman

That’s how the game was marketed. It was probably how the other games were marketed too, actually, but whatever. The idea of Arkham Knight was that it was going to be the ‘ultimate Batman game/experience’. Yet, no Batcave, no meetups with Alfred for sage advice, no well-paced, meaningful encounters with other series characters. In fact, the whole game seems rushed. Not in the sense that they rushed to get it made, but that the player is rushed to get to the end. And not in a sense of urgency kind of way. Just in a ‘we can’t really be bothered to write anything much, so go and beat up the next person’ kind of way.

I think the biggest problem of all is down to…

No Paul Dini?!

Paul Dini was a writer for Batman: The Animated Series – the cartoon that is, to this day, considered one of the best animated series ever made. And for good reason. It was dark and scary, despite being for children, and really got the world and atmosphere of Batman across perfectly in those 20 minutes or so.

Batman Nightwing and Robin

Paul Dini knows Batman. He knows the supporting characters. He knows the world. He knows how to write! The same, it seems, cannot be said for the writers of Arkham Knight. According to Dini himself, he asked Warner Interactive (the publisher) about doing the third game and was told that they might not be looking so much to freelance writers for the next game. He took it to mean that if he had anything else interesting coming his way, he should take it. It sounds, then, like someone – whether Warner or Rocksteady – had already decided that they didn’t need to hire Dini for the last game. And what a massive mistake that was.

The writers of Arkham Knight actually wrote the other two games alongside Dini. It seems from this one though that Dini did all the heavy lifting. The writing here is incredibly weak, unsatisfying, nonsensical and lacking in substance and quantity. It feels like they wrote a game half the length of the game they actually made. It’s not just the writing, though; the directing is off a lot of the time. But then, the director is also one of the writers.

Even from the start, something felt off (I only later discovered that Dini hadn’t written it). The game just kind of…is happening. It doesn’t seem to start – you’re just playing. Things happen without explanation, characters know things that they have no reason to know. For [spoilerific] example, Scarecrow kidnaps Oracle at one point, but he doesn’t actually tell Batman she’s been kidnapped. He says ‘Let me go or she dies.’ A quick call to Oracle shows that she is still okay until the feed cuts off with her screaming. Which part of that says ‘kidnap’? Yet Batman starts talking about her having been kidnapped. Not to mention that atrocious writing where Oracle ignores Batman telling her to get out. She just tells him no one knows she’s there. What a moron! She’s Batgirl. She’s Oracle. She’s been Batman’s friend for a long time. She should not be so incredibly stupid and she should know better than most that when Batman shouts at you to ‘get out now’, you get the absolute hell out!

In short, the game was hit badly by Paul Dini’s absence.

Sexism

Yes, when I noticed something on Google about the game’s sexist treatment of women, I rolled my eyes and assumed it was probably Anita whatsherface spewing more hate and lies at anything that will get attention for her. But the more I played, the more I began to agree. ‘Sexism’ might be too strong a term for it – one that people love to use as much as possible for the smallest things, thus diluting it – but it’s certainly bad use of female characters. There are only three female characters of note in the game: Oracle/Barbara Gordon, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn. Harley barely counts, because she’s in it for a very short time. That said, the DLC that gives you 10 minutes playing as her does have her telling Penguin where to stick his umbrella more than once, so that’s…something, I suppose.

[Mild Spoilers] Catwoman is so badly used it’s almost laughable. She is there for no other reason than some weak justification for starting the Riddler’s challenges. He has taken her captive and will detonate a bomb collar around her neck if you don’t complete his challenges and help her get a series of keys to deactivate said collar. So she sits there while her Dark Knight in dull spandex armour goes off, heroically…driving his car round and round underground racetracks.

[Still Mild Spoilers] She does at least help you beat up some of Riddler’s robots, but even her part in some of the ‘riddles’ is as helper. Then as soon as you’ve freed her, she disappears. She comes back to help fight him at the end, but that’s it. Even her dialogue isn’t what it could have been. She tells Batman to be careful and thanks him at one point I think (in a roundabout way at least), which just doesn’t fit her character.

Oracle

[BIG Spoilers] Oracle is the worst though. I already mentioned one part of her awful writing. But even that bit goes a little beyond just bad writing. It’s making her the stereotypical helpless, oblivious female character who doesn’t realise the danger even though it’s being practically spelled out for her. Then, of course, getting herself hurt/killed/kidnapped/whatever. It’s the moronic ‘You’re in danger, you have to run!’, ‘Don’t be silly, I’m fine’ kind of nonsense trope. But it gets so much worse.

[Still BIG spoilers] Let’s not forget that Oracle – aka Barbara Gordon – was Batgirl until Joker shot her through the spine. So to have her kidnapped so easily and then dragged away without a fight is just ridiculous. Yes, she’s in a wheelchair. So the hell what? The character of Oracle has been, as far as I’m aware, something of an inspiration to comic book readers with disabilities. Being wheelchair-bound might have changed her life, but it didn’t destroy her. It put an end to the Batgirl alter ego, but gave birth to Oracle: the leader, among other vital roles, of her own team of superheroes. She makes people pay time and again for underestimating her either for being a girl or for being in a wheelchair. Rocksteady decided to brush that aside and make her just another damsel in distress, whimpering and screaming as she’s taken away.

[Still BIG spoilers] The best she could do while being taken away was cause the car to crash, giving her a chance to leave a clue for Batman. That’s it. No doubt had Rocksteady decided to show us that from inside the car, it would have involved her slapping and scratching the driver ‘like a girl’. But the worst was still to come. When Batman finally caught up with her, [Seriously BIG, BIG spoiler!] Scarecrow releases his fear toxin to make her fear Batman. In order to stop him ‘getting her’, she shoots herself in the head. Now, [Even bigger more seriously BIG spoiler!] I know that later on, it’s revealed that it was actually Batman who was under the influence of the toxin, and she didn’t shoot herself, but that happens so much later that the player is left with that impression of an incredibly weak and pathetic version of Oracle ingrained in their mind. Not to mention Batman should have known she wouldn’t behave like that.

The Arkham Knight

The Arkham Knight

I’m running out of steam, so let’s talk/ramble/rant about the biggest let down. The Arkham Knight is a ludicrously weak villain. From my first encounter with him, I was underwhelmed. Rather than the anti-Batman that I expected from the trailers, he just sounded like a whining, spoilt brat. He didn’t really get the upper hand on Batman, save for one time that had no repercussions at all. For the majority of the game, he just became one of those voices on the other end of the enemies’ earpieces that get on your nerves quite quickly, always throwing insults and empty threats at you – oh, they’re going to kill me this time, just like the last five times you told me that? He was a pitiful, disappointing character as the Arkham Knight and it only got worse once his helmet came off.

I wrote an article about who the Arkham Knight could be. My favourite idea was that he was actually Batman himself. The Dark Knight’s worst fears realised – an evil version of himself. The idea of Scarecrow’s fear toxin creating the villain was an intriguing one, but the moment the two interacted, it was obvious my already far-fetch idea was wrong.

[The BIGGEST spoilers!] I did, accidentally, mention the true identity though. It turns out that the Arkham Knight is none other than Robin number 2, Jason Todd. Which…is absolutely ludicrous. First, there was no mention of Todd in either of the other two games, even though Rocksteady said they had laid down their plans for the entire trilogy from the start. Second, and most important, Jason Todd is already Red Hood! I dismissed the idea as ridiculous, not only for this fact, but for the fact that Red Hood would feature in DLC for the game.

[Still the BIGGEST spoilers] Rocksteady did a stupid twisty thing, where this is kind of Red Hood’s origin story. He comes back as the Arkham Knight (thanks to Joker brainwashing him, rather than killing him), and then goes on to become Red Hood – because Batman talks to him for 10 seconds. It’s insanely stupid and weak. And if I hadn’t been so sure that Rocksteady wouldn’t be that stupid, it would have been blatantly obvious that it was Jason Todd. Not only from all that the Knight knew, but from the fact that Batman keeps seeing flashbacks of Todd in his mind.

The End

Not the end of the article/rant, sorry. The end of the game. I won’t even bother going into detail. I’ll just say it is absolutely atrocious and mildly insulting. There’s not even any proper closure to it, and it even gives rise to questions. Worst of all, it pretty well destroys any chance of an eventual Justice League game, which a lot of players were hoping was the long term goal. And why didn’t Superman have a cameo?!

The Good Bits

Naturally, it wasn’t all rubbish. Just most of it. The switching between characters mid-fight was pretty good, though kind of pointless at the same time. I think they just needed to add new features. The Batmobile was a good addition, just far too heavily featured. The fear takedowns were also very good but, again, there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to put them to good use.

[Joint BIGGEST spoiler!] The best thing of all though, was the Joker. Yes, the Joker is dead, but he also lives on in Batman’s mind. A combination of the tainted blood Joker injected him with in City and the fear toxin. Although it gets a bit much at times, his scenes are mostly pretty good. And while I thought the series was over-saturated with Joker, I found myself not minding the way he was in this game. Again he was kind of the main villain, but in a far more interesting way: trying to take over Batman, trying to make him kill.

So, although I really don’t understand how it got so many 10/10s (I think I’d probably give it a 7 at the most), at the end of the day, you get to glide about being vengeance. Being the night. Being Batman.

Batman

No Man’s Sky

No Man's Sky splashscreen

Science fiction is arguably the most freeing genre to write in. Almost any other genre can be slotted into it, and the range of hard to soft sci-fi means a writer/director/artist can do just about anything he or she wants. It’s one of the main reasons I’m drawn to write sci-fi (science fantasy, in my case).

No Man’s Sky, an upcoming game from Hello Games, seems set to relight the fire under our imaginations and renew our love of sci-fi. This isn’t the bleak dystopian or post-apocalyptic sci-fi that we’ve got used to lately. This is the colourful, vibrant frontier imagined in so many 70s and 80s sci-fi book covers. Sean Murray, the game’s creator, specifically credits the cover artwork of Chris Foss as inspiring the game. That is his view of what science fiction is.

I was watching when the game was first announced and have been looking forward to it ever since. I wrote an article about it not long after, saying:

During Spike’s VGX 2013 awards – catastrophically co-hosted by Joel McHale – a little game studio called Hello Games showed us a glimpse of their new game, No Man’s Sky. In the midst of games such as The Last Of Us, Titanfall, Grand Theft Auto 5, etc., this unknown game – from the tiny group of indie developers of Joe Danger – stole the show.

No Man’s Sky is, for all intents and purposes, infinite. We could buy the game on release day and we’ll have died of old age before we’ve explored every planet in it. A single planet could easily be the size of Earth. Think about that for a moment. Think about a game like Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. It takes a while to wander around them, doesn’t it? No Man’s Sky has Earth-sized planets that you can get out of your spaceship and walk around. You could probably spend a few months exploring every inch of a single planet (on foot). There are billions and billions of these planets. Actually, I think the number is eighteen quintillion, give or take.

This is all made possible by the procedurally generated worlds. To put it simply, it would be impossible for the Hello Games team (initially 4 people) to create the galaxy and planets and lifeforms by hand the way other games are done. The team, therefore, created a system whereby they put in rough blueprints, and then the game takes those blueprints and their constraints to create unique flora and fauna, planets, terrain, weather, etc. The game does this on the fly as you play – it isn’t preloaded. And those constraints ensure that there’s a degree of realism to how and where plants grow, the physiology of animals, and so on. This results in players experiencing worlds that the developers themselves have never seen.

Most importantly to someone like me, it creates a much more real sense of exploration and discovery. You are literally, and quite genuinely, discovering these digital worlds and creatures that no one has come across before. That said, I can imagine the novelty could wear off after a while, especially when you start to recognise elements – ‘oh, look, that mouse has the same head as the dinosaur three planets ago’.

Sean Murray is reluctant to say too much about the lore of the universe and the storyline of the game. Which makes sense – it’s a game about discovery, after all. It sounds, though, like the story will be quite loose and in the background. Rather than having goals, we’ll have reasons to do things. This is where our imaginations will take over.

I’m not too sure what kind of things we’ll be able to do. We can mine, we can shoot things from our spaceship, and we can buy new ships and equipment. Other than that, it’s a bit of a mystery. My biggest concern for the game is that it will rely too much on the player’s sense of wonder and expect us to keep playing for the sense of discovery. As I said, the novelty of this won’t last long, so there needs to be actual gameplay that keeps us playing.

No Man's Sky

That said, we will no doubt end up creating our own storylines, our own narratives to go along with what we’re doing. That will be a fresh take on gaming for some people – we’re used to being told this is who you are, this is what you’re doing, and this is why you’re doing it.

I’ve said before that I hate how most games throw in a story as an excuse for shooting anything that moves, and that proper writers, like Rhianna Pratchett (Tomb Raider, Heavenly Sword, etc.), need to be employed from the start to create an immersive, properly next-gen (now current gen, I suppose) game. I might even write another post ranting about that at some point. But the equal of creating a story-rich game is perhaps to do just what No Man’s Sky seems to be doing: let us create our story.

It won’t surprise regular readers (or as regular as you can be with my infrequent ramblings) to hear that I have my own ideas for games if anyone was foolish enough to give me a game studio. No Man’s Sky is, amongst others, the kind of game I would want to make. Create a rich galaxy, a background story, and let the player do whatever they want. I want to craft a galaxy and its inhabitants and then let the player loose to make their mark on it.

Of course, I would want to go a little further – put more options and whatnot in. That would mean more funding. More funding means more constraints by a publisher. There’s a reason most games these days are so formulaic. The publishers are terrified of putting money into something that isn’t tried and tested. Much better to take a game that sold well, put a new coat of paint on it, change the name slightly, and push it out into the wide world.

Hello Games doesn’t have this problem, because they are indie developers. This is probably the only reason they are able to do what they are doing. Sean Murray worked at EA, so he knows the industry well enough to know to stay away from becoming the industry.

Anyway, there are many articles out there about No Man’s Sky, so there’s not much point in me going on and on. If you’re interested enough to have got to the end of this article, you’ve probably already read some of those other articles.

Suffice to say I am looking forward to become a frontiersman.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

I know you miss my clever titles, but…SEO.

As you may have noticed, I enjoy superhero films. And games. And sometimes graphic novels. So, naturally, I have been looking forward to The Avengers: Age of Ultron since it was announced. Admittedly, I actually found myself less enthusiastic about it as time went on, to the point that when I woke up on Thursday morning, I didn’t remember that I was going to see it. But, I was happy to be going back in to see Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, et al. Mostly, I wanted to see one of the new additions to the Avengers team, The Vision. Well, I say mostly, but it was half that and half wanting to see James Spader’s Ultron.

From the trailers, we got the impression that Ultron could be the first villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe who was truly menacing, intimidating, and scary. Someone who posed a very real threat to the Avengers, powerful as they are. Unfortunately, what we got was…a comedian.

Avengers Age of Ultron

Let’s start from the start. The snowy, forest scene that we saw plenty of pictures of gets blasted apart by the Avengers and Hydra. Already, about 1 minute in, the film made its first mistake. It tried to copy the impressive single-shot sequence from near the end of the first Avengers. The one where the camera moves from one Avenger to the next, to the next, without cutting. It looked good in that film. In this film, it was some of the worst CGI I’ve seen for a long time. It was contrived and looked simply awful.

And that just, for me, sums up a lot of Joss Whedon’s writing in Age of Ultron. He seemed more concerned with getting cheap laughs than telling a story. With forcing ‘cool’ scenes than actually telling us what the hell was going on. Although the story is simple, I found myself confused more than once. Ultron himself seems to go through a few different variations of his evil plan but we, the audience, seem to find that out by accident. Of course, the story itself is the biggest cliche there is when it comes to stories involving artificial intelligence, but that should have been okay. After all, it’s how a story is told that’s the main thing. Unfortunately, it was told quite badly.

Ultron. It’s James Spader! How do you get a voice like James Spader’s to come out of your villain’s mouth, and still manage to make him benign and unthreatening? Yes, he’s more powerful than any of the Avengers and, yes, he kills a few people, but he also jokes constantly. It takes a very special writer to write a character who is both witty and scary, and Joss Whedon is not that writer. So yes, Ultron is funny. Very funny in places. But what do you want from a big, bad villain: threat and menace, or some laughs? The humour of the Marvel films is one of their attractions, but set yourself a damn limit!

It’s Iron Man 3 and Mandarin all over again. Remember how good the trailers seemed? How menacing and threatening The Mandarin sounded? We knew it was going to be good. Then we watched the film and…Trevor Slattery. What? Not that Ultron isn’t a threat. He’s just not threatening.

It seems like Whedon wanted him to be like a moody teenager at first, since he has only just been created. But he never really bothers to push the character down that route. Which leaves him a bit all over the place (like most of the film).

James Spader is, naturally, very good as Ultron regardless of the writing.

avengers-age-ultron-poster

You’ve probably noticed that the writing is the main let down of the film for me. It had little structure. Things just happened. It was simply ‘Oh now this is happening’, rather than ‘This is happening because he did that, and they need this outcome, blah blah blah…’ Rarely was there much cohesion between the scenes and the storytelling.

So those are my main complaints.

It’s less of a complaint, but I was disappointed with how little Paul Bettany’s The Vision was in it. He appears late on in the film, and only really has 4 or 5 scenes. And a very small handful of lines. Yet, despite that, he was one of the best things about the film. Him and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who was much better utilised this time round. And funny.

Thor seemed a little redundant this time, despite practically being a god. In fact, he took more of a beating from Ultron than any of the mere mortals, who held their own against him perfectly well. But there was no real story to his character, other than in a set up for future films. Though in light of the other issues, this didn’t really bother me. He was still Thor as we know him – though perhaps not taking quite as much punishment as we know he should be able to.

Overall, I did enjoy the film, you might be surprised to hear. I will definitely watch it again, perhaps at the cinema with the free ticket I got to make up for the flickering of the screen throughout.

I should probably list all the things I liked about it now, but it’s actually a lot harder than listing the things I didn’t. The memory of the film seems quite blurry, thanks to the aforementioned lack of structure.

Ah, but I know what I will complain about again though! Coulson. No Phil Coulson. The current events of Agents of SHIELD do mean that it kind of makes sense that he wouldn’t have a cameo, but I’d hoped they would find a way. After all, his death in the first film caused such outrage that Marvel had to bring him back!

But then I read Whedon’s comments on the topic. As far as he’s concerned, Coulson is dead to the MCU. Basically, he sounds extremely bitter, with his ego bruised by the fact that Marvel decided to undo his decision to kill the character. I wouldn’t be too happy either, but at the end of the day, these characters are Marvel’s not Whedon’s. The fans are Marvel’s, not Whedon’s. So I’m as disappointed with Whedon as I was with the film. More so, actually.

What I found amusing by his statements concerning Coulson, though, was that he said that the plot device of someone dying and then coming back can be used to the point of there never feeling like there’s something at stake. While that’s true (and let’s ignore the fact that it doesn’t lessen the impact at the time), he’s saying this after putting out a film that contains the utterly pointless death of a main character. Not only is it utterly pointless, and only there so that we feel like the whole thing had been dangerous and they didn’t all get out unscathed, but it seemed like he had been thrown into the film for that purpose.

age-of-ultron-the-vision

I understand the idea that characters might need to die, otherwise it’s all too easy and clean and nothing really feels like it’s at stake, but that’s not necessarily the case. Ultron could have been the villain who tore the heroes apart on the inside. Who got in their heads and broke them. After all, as someone said: Ultron probably knew more about each of them that they knew about each other. He could quite easily have used that knowledge. No one needed to die in order for them to not make it out unscathed. But more to the point, if you are going to kill a character, don’t make it so entirely contrived.

But anyway, that’s probably enough ranting. Go and see it. It’s quite good, despite what I’ve said… I’d probably rate it 4th or 5th out of the Marvel films.

Batman V Superman

Finally, we have a trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. And that subtitle is still stupid.

The trailer was leaked on Thursday night/Friday morning and was promptly removed from most corners of the internet. I’m not sure of the quality of the original leak, but the version I saw was a fairly bad cam version (someone recorded it off the screen with a phone or camcorder). In response, a probably very annoyed Snyder/Warner Brothers did the best thing: they released the full quality version on Friday night. No doubt you’ve already seen it, but…watch it again:

Already there’s a lot of whinging about it, even though it’s a two-minute teaser trailer. It’s pretty much balanced between Superman and Batman, and alludes to the unrest among the people. It also gives us our first look at Batman in motion, and he looks bigger than Superman. The tone of the trailer is dark – by necessity – and people are assuming that means the entire film will be a dark and gritty adaptation. While I’m among the ones hoping that it won’t be (Superman shouldn’t be dark OR gritty), I’m not about to leap to such conclusions based on our first tease of the film.

There’s still some more to come with Snyder’s original IMAX event on Monday. I’m not sure exactly what will be there, but I read in one place that there will be two trailers shown for it. Snyder himself tweeted that there will be some shots in the trailer there that we didn’t get in Friday’s release. I had read earlier in the week that Aquman, Flash and Cyborg all get a brief shot, which didn’t happen, so perhaps they’ll be in Monday’s. I wonder too, though, if the IMAX event trailers will be like the comic-con one, where only those attending will get to see it, and the public never will.

The Dark Knight will take on the Big Blue Boy Scout in Zack Snyder’s second DC universe entry. Not a lot is known about the plot, except that it will deal with some of the aftermath of the events in Man of Steel (Zod invading and killing a lot of people, and Superman himself destroying the remains of Metropolis). It seems public opinion will be mostly against him, and he’ll be considered a menace rather than a hero. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) will no doubt take full advantage of this, as he’ll consider the flying alien a threat too.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman

Judging by the batwing scene in the trailer, it seems someone – probably Luthor – will take control of Batman’s toys and use them to trick Superman into attacking the Dark Knight. Maybe. That’s a complete guess. Somehow, though, the two will come to blows. That can’t last the entire film, though, so who knows what the rest will be about.

Most of the Superman scenes, to me, seem to be some kind of dream sequence – perhaps a nightmare that he’s having as the public turn on him, making him question himself and what he might turn into. There is a shot of some soldiers with the Superman shield on their shoulders. Could that be an allusion to the alternate reality where Superman turns into a brutal dictator?

There’s plenty of stuff in the trailer that could be broken down and talked about at length, but…I won’t. Did you see the Riddler easter egg though?

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (still stupid) will be out on 25 March 2016. It stars Henry Cavill (Superman), Ben Affleck (Batman), Amy Adams (Lois Lane), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Jason Mamoa (Aquaman), Jeremy Irons (Alfred), Ray Fisher (Cyborg), and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor). And some others.

Jason Mamoa Aquaman

Last Word Proofreading

Fountain Pen

I am now a proofreader! Proofreading hither and thither. Mostly hither.

I’ve been doing bits of proofreading for friends’ businesses for some time – press releases, website articles, comic books, a non-fiction book – and finally realised that I could (and should) make a living of it. I’ve been writing since I was a child, and that writing and editing taught me most of what I needed to know about the English language – even if I don’t always put it to good use. Editing my own work sharpened my eye when it came to other people’s because, as we all know, your own work is the hardest to edit and proofread.

So, driven by the knowledge that I had both the eye to spot errors and most of the language skills necessary, and by a soft spot for telling people they’ve made a mistake, I went to the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to start a handful of grammar and proofreading courses.

I completed the courses with the knowledge that I can proofread anything that’s thrown at me – unless it’s a specialist subject, in which case you can throw it elsewhere. And my last tutor was impressed with my eye for detail, so there!

So now I have a brand new button at the top of the website that leads to my brand new proofreading website with links to my brand new proofreading email address. It isn’t particularly well written, but it is well proofread.

Last Word Proofreading.

Man: The Thinker!

Not long ago I wrote a short blog about the etymology of ‘ye olde’ (as in ‘ye olde shoppe’). ‘It was fascinating’, I hear you say. ‘You should write more of those’, I also hear you say. Well, it’s funny you should say that because…I am.

Male Symbol

A lot of people don’t like it when the term ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ is used, because they feel that it excludes women or, at the very least, diminishes their importance and equality (that it’s sexist). So the etymology of the word is (quite mildly a bit) interesting.

In fact the word ‘man’, in Old English, used to be used the same as we use ‘person’ – gender neutral. It’s fairly recent that it has become used exclusively for males – the last 100 years or so. The word ‘wer’ or ‘waepmann’ referred to a male, until the 1300s or so, and ‘wif’ or ‘wifmann’ referred to a female. ‘Wifmann’, obviously, evolved into ‘woman’. ‘Wer’ was simply replaced by ‘man’, which took on a double meaning then – of both a male person and a person in general.

The word ‘man’ actually meant ‘one who has intelligence’, while ‘men’ meant ‘to think’, making it clearer still that ‘man’ referred simply to human beings.

Again, these days people say that to say ‘man’ in reference to all people (even capitalised to make it obvious), is sexist. ‘Mankind’ is just about tolerated, it seems. No matter what it used to mean, people will still complain that it’s sexist because of what it now means. Still, it’s interesting to see where it came from.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age Table

I never expected Inquisition (see what I did?!) to be brilliant. I didn’t expect it to be BioWare back to form. And it wasn’t. But it was pretty good, and in some places very good; it was certainly a big improvement over Dragon Age II.

I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition on release day and have been taking my time with it so that, by the time I embarked upon the final mission, I’d finished all the side quests. I did manage to miss one party member, though, due to not discovering that Orlais has two upper levels until hour 101. I finished it on New Year’s Day.

I’m not entirely sure what to think. I wrote a blog for Uproar about Bioware and mentioned how this game could remake or break the developer. I think, on the whole, it has done them good. They still made some of the same mistakes they did with some of their past games, but mostly they did a good job.

First off, the voice acting was pretty good – nothing special, but good – for all but one character: your own. You choose between one of two male voices when you start – an American one and an English one – and I assume the same goes for female builds. I chose the English one, because American doesn’t sound right in fantasy to me. What a mistake. Flat, boring, unemotional for the most part. When he did put emotion into things, it was all over the place. He’d sound accusing, angry, surprised or confused, when he was meant to be anything but. Mostly, he just sounded like a dimwit – not how you want your Inquisitor to sound. Compared to the very good voicing of Hawke in Dragon Age II, it was a big step back.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the game was the world itself. The areas you can travel to are both huge and varied. One of the worst things about Dragon Age II was the blatant reuse of areas, one lesson BioWare clearly learnt well. No one area looks like another, no matter how small, and the environments are varied enough – even the similar ones – that you could tell where in Thedas you’d been put if the game launched you there randomly. The detail in most of these environments is impressive too, given the size. Except the desert. That’s far too big to be so empty.

Dragon Age Dales

The combat is pretty much the same as it was in Dragon Age II, except instead of mashing the attack button, you simply hold down the right trigger and the fighting is done for you. Overall, it’s fine, though the blows just don’t feel like they have the impact that they did in the previous game. You feel more like you’re swinging a fish at the enemy instead of a sword. And the top-down view thing is entirely pointless, at least on easier difficulties.

Then there are the downsides. The AI is terrible, with the party members getting stuck or deciding to stand still and not follow you (which means if you switch to them thinking they’re right behind you, you’re transported miles away and then your previous character is teleported to them). In fights, some of the ranged characters would run right up to enemies to attack them…from range. Given that ranged characters have less defences and lower health, this was quite irritating. Not to mention moronic. But BioWare decided that we didn’t need the detailed character behaviour options that helped make Origins so good. Basically, you can tell a character to do what another does, or do their own thing. The former means that they totally ignore enemies who attack them, and therefore die a lot.

Enemy spawning is very annoying. If you wipe out a group of enemies, don’t look over your shoulder as you walk away, or they’ll have respawned again. That’s if you survived the encounter. Not because the enemies are tough, but because of the glitch that causes your character to run into an enemy and then launch into the sky and plummet back to the ground.

Glitches being another irritant. They are mostly small, and BioWare did fix the worst ones. I missed a lot of what was happening for first several hours because dialogue would often freeze, and I would have to press the skip button so that I wouldn’t be left with someone just staring at me in silence. That of course resulted in me missing lines. When it happened multiple times within a single conversation, I was left clueless.

And what about the lies BioWare told? There were a couple of things they claimed would be in the game – and claimed very close to release – that aren’t. While this is pretty typical of BioWare, that doesn’t make it acceptable. The main thing I remember is them saying how once you liberate a keep, you would decide what kind of keep it should be. You don’t. At all. It doesn’t matter, but it annoys me that BioWare are so changeable and liberal with the truth.

Their claims of all these hard decisions is perhaps the chief example. They say that every time, of course, but usually there are hard choices. They said these would be some of the hardest yet, that there would be no easy or ‘right’ choice. Well…where the hell were they? The hardest choice I had to make was deciding whether I should take Solas or Dorian on missions. The only other thing that was hard was a choice regarding Blackwall, and it seems like both options turn out exactly the same anyway. They used an example in one gameplay video of a village under attack at the same time as Inquisition forces, or something like that. The choice was between helping the Inquisition and helping the village. Nothing like that ever occurs in the game. Ever. This is the culmination of two other games, with the fate of the world in the balance, and there isn’t a single hard choice.

Which reminds me of the video where they showed how, on approaching enemy forces, you could set fire to their boats so that they couldn’t escape. They said there were be things like that throughout. There are not.

There’s no actual danger. There is one point at which your enemy, Corypheus, launches a devastating attack on the Inquisition, but other than that it’s an easy ride. No party members are ever in any danger, where they could be killed off. Again, this is unlike gameplay videos and trailers suggested. Which reminds me of just how many scenes from trailers and gameplay videos never made it into the game. Good scenes. Dramatic scenes. Did BioWare have to decide between delaying the game and cutting a load of it out, and chose the latter? They certainly seem to have bitten off a hell of a lot more than they could chew.

Overall, I’d probably give Dragon Age Inquisition a maximum of 7/10, and I would recommend it. But it suffers from BioWare’s continuing cluelessness. This isn’t the end of my review/rant, but everything from here on will be full of big spoilers.

I used the Keep thing online to make all the choices that I made in Dragon Age Origins and DA2, which weren’t saved to my Origin account for some reason. Most things seemed to make little to no difference, but I wanted to have Alistair in my game, so I chose to have the Hero of Fereldan kill the archdemon, and Alistair rejoined the Wardens. So he was indeed in my Inquisition playthrough, and turned out to be a fairly important part. However, after he played his part, he left to return to the Grey Wardens at their headquarters. I thought that this was to get their help with the whole world ending crisis thing, but apparently not, because he never came back and wasn’t mentioned again until the credits.

Another familiar character to make an appearance is Hawke. This was handled incredibly badly. It was built up to be a big surprise, and yet just as I was about to meet him, the game asked me if I wanted to use Hawke’s default appearance or customise it. That’s like taking someone to a surprise birthday party and then at the door, telling them you hope they like surprise parties! Why the hell didn’t they just do that at the start of the game? And then there’s Hawke’s end. You have to choose between him and Alistair – I suppose that could count as a hard decision, but it makes the most sense that Hawke be the one to die, so it isn’t. And so the hero of Dragon Age II is given a pathetic, badly-animated non-death. He runs at the enemy, and then we just assume he died. Brilliantly handled, as always, BioWare. Because who cares about a character you not only spent tens of hours with, but controlled the whole time?

Then there’s the end. A weaker, more empty and all-round crap ending I haven’t witnessed for a long time. It kind of comes in two parts. First there’s the final fight against Corypheus and his dragon. Morrigan takes on the latter with her new dragon shapeshifting powers…and loses. So much for ‘I can match the dragon’. Then you just chase Corypheus around, hitting him. It’s not even a hard fight. All the dragons in the game were harder. The nightmare demon thing in the Fade was harder. Then after the fight there’s a cutscene of the Inquisitor creating a rift to suck Corypheus into the Fade. It’s not remotely dramatic or climactic. It doesn’t even make sense to me. He wanted to be in the damn fade, and you JUST PUT HIM THERE! I know the suggestion is that he’s dead and not there physically, but… Oh, never mind.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Before this, you’re told that Inquisition forces can’t assist you. They’re on their way back from another fight. So exactly what was the point in building the Inquisition? Really? In reality, all it took to defeat Corypheus was for Morrigan to get her dragon power and the Inquisitor to swing his sword a few times. In the end, the Inquisition just seemed kind of pointless.

So unlike Origins, where there’s a huge battle at the end and all your companions are up to their eyes in it, this (again, the culmination of two games and with the fate of the world in the balance) end with me, a dwarf, a knight, and an elf against an archdemon-a-like and a darkspawn magister god-wannabe. So after you defeat him, suddenly all your other companions appear from nowhere, along with random Inquisition soldiers – including a scout who was the only one there with you when you caught up to Corypheus, AND THEN DISAPPEARED! Oh, yeah, big heroes.

Then part two of the ending is back in Skyhold, where there’s a party. After the Inquisitor stands and stares at people while they applaud. No Cassandra next to him, of course. The other advisers are there, but one of the two that created the Inquisition is down with the unwashed massed. Makes sense. I suspect this is BioWare pretending that they learnt from the atrocity of ME3, and wanted to give closure for the party members. They didn’t. It’s weak, empty and pointless. You basically go between them all to get a few lines of conversation from each. It’s for appearances and nothing more. It’s not even done well. Where are all the characters that you met throughout the game who aren’t companions? Where’s that little dwarf scout? Where’s Dagna? Where’s that mage leader, etc., etc.? Where’s Iron Bull’s company? He made a big deal out of saving their lives, and yet they aren’t there when he turns up at the end to pretend he actually did something to help, and they aren’t there with him celebrating. It’s pathetic.

Then after that, it just…ends. Nothing about the final fight or the ‘end’ actually feels like the end of a game. There’s no aftermath, no picking up the pieces, no drama. You can continue to play after the credits, but there’s nothing new, nothing has changed. It just adds to the empty feeling, especially if you’ve finished all the side missions.

There’s an after credits scene that seems to partially explain something Solas says after Corypheus is defeated, and perhaps sets up Dragon Age 4. It seems he is in fact the Dread Wolf, but I don’t really understand. I thought the Dread Wolf was a trickster who…well, tricked the other elven gods, and yet he seems to be just like we knew Solas to be. And what happens at the end? Does Flemeth/Mythal possess him, or does he kill her, or…what? I suppose it’s meant to be confusing and a tease.

So I think that’s about the end of my ranting. I actually thought less and less of the game as I wrote this, and more things came to me. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of my problems with it, nor indeed the things I liked about it, but it’s long enough already, and it’s hard to properly review a game that lasted 107 hours. It was a good game, but not nearly good enough to make me think BioWare are back on track. I won’t be buying their next game.