Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Preview: Hrolf Kraki's Saga by Poul Anderson



The Saga of Hrolf Kraki is one of the Norse Epic Saga, originally composed in approximately 1300 AD, the saga of Hrolf Kraki has many cross references to "Beowulf". The story is about a Danish King, Hrolf Kraki and his path to become the king of Denmark. In this book, "Hrolf Kraki's saga", novelist Poul Anderson has crafted a re-telling of the epic saga in prose translation. Published in 1973, the novel was nominated for the British Fantasy Award in 1973, and was general well received by the public. With stories involving giants, elves, magical swords wielding Norse warriors and background in Norse mythology and much more, this is exactly my cup of tea. The book is currently out of print, and with no small efforts I finally tracked it down on ebay and received it recently.

I am reading it now and a review will follow soon.

Book Review: Soon I will be Invincible



Two years ago while I was browsing through the bookshop, I came across "Soon I will be Invincible", a novel written by author Austin Grossman. I had never heard of Austin Grossman at the time, but the superhero comic style cover was capturing. I read the summary at the back of the book, and the description says: "This morning on planet Earth there are 1,686 enhanced, gifted, or otherwise-superpowered persons. 678 use their powers to fight crimes, while 441 use their powers to commit them, 44 are currently confined in Special Containment Facilities for enhanced criminals. Of these last, it is interesting to note that an unusually high proportion have IQs of 300 or more - 18 to be exact, including me...".

The book seemed interesting so I decided to give it a try to find out what this is all about.

The way the story is told in this book is in first person narrative. Although this is a book about superheroes and super villains, but the entire story is about the super villain Dr. Impossible, a mad genius with Malign Hypercognition Disorder who has attempted to take over the world 12 times, but all his attempts failed due to the effort of a team of superheroes, the Champions. Without spoiling too much story, the plot started with the team of superheroes pursuing a mission to search for one of the greatest superhero "CoreFire", who had been missing for a few month. All the while, Dr. Impossible escaped from the prison and started to plan for his 13th attempt to take over the world. As the story unfolds, the readers find out more and more about Dr. Impossible, such as his motivations and a more in-depth view of the live of a super villain. In the book, it is interesting how Dr. Impossible reflected about his own life and wondered what would have happened if he had used his high IQs for the benefit of mankind, but it is his own impulsive behaviour of trying to take over the world (possibly due to his mental illness) that prevents him from ever living a happy existence. This brings up a very interesting theme of actions induced by mental illnesses V.S. personal choice and personal responsibility. I got the feeling that the author was trying to convey that Dr. Impossible's actions are due to his mental illness, and therefore his is not solely responsible for his actions because it is not "him" who made the choices of being an evil genius. This is a very post-modern concept, and is something worth pondering about. Personally, I think mental illness or not, every one is still responsible for their own choices and actions.

Another unique component of this book is, because the story is told in first person narrative through the eyes of Dr. Impossible, the author let the readers decide the nature of Dr. Impossible.

Overall, this is not a bad book, the story is original but some parts of the plot doesn't really connect very well.

Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Video game review: Darksiders














Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Microsoft Windows (PC)

Year 2010 has been a year of some great action adventure titles release, mostly on the consoles. These are games such as the critically acclaimed God of war 3, Dante’s inferno, Bayonetta and the long awaited Darksiders. While God of War 3 received unbelievably high scores from the various game reviewers, Bayonetta was also well praised for its game play and design. However, Dante’s Inferno received somewhat negative reviews, mostly due to the complains of some minor problems and is framed as an average clone to Sony’s God of War franchise. Out of all these games, Darksiders finally made its way to PC-DVD just a few weeks ago, so is this a good game? Or is it just another clone to God of War again? Today I will review this game.

Watch this video for gameplay trailer, with interviews from the developer

Darsiders was developed by Vigil Games, this is a new video gaming studio. The game itself was published by THQ. The game was originally released on Xbox360 and Playstation 3 earlier this year. The PC port finally arrived in later September this year. I didn’t know about Darksiders until I came across a video trailer on youtube. My first impression was “wow, the guy you get to play looks really cool, he has a big sword and wears a cool armour”. However, I wasn’t too sure about this game so I read some reviews by IGN and Gamespot. In general, the opinions are that this game is a mix between God of War and Legend of Zelda. Furthermore, IGN UK and IGN AU reviews both gave Darksiders 9/10 score, while the general rating is around 8.3/10. Personally I am quite a fan of action adventure titles, such as Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed, so I decided to give Darksiders a try, the result? Well, this is what I am here to talk about.

This game has characters with BIG weapons!


Story:

I will rant about the story for a bit, so bear with me. First of all, the story of Darksiders is loosely based on Revelation. Yes, I repeat, Revelation. However I also said it is “loosely based on”. One might think, how can anyone write a video game story loosely based on Revalation? Well, here is the deal. In Darksiders you play as one of the four horsemen of Apocalypse known as “War”. I think this is from the passage of Revelation 6:3-4. In the story the seals were broken and War, as one of the horsemen was summoned to the earth. He started to wipe out every living thing on earth, thinking it was time for the end of days because the seals were broken. Very soon War discovered something is aloof, because it seemed that he was the only horsemen being summoned, and as he performed his duty of “extermination” he gradually lost his power in the process doing his duty in bringing an Armageddon. War was eventually defeated in a battle against a large demonic creature and is presumably dead. He woke up and found that the seals weren’t really broken, and War has been mistakenly summoned. On top of that, War was blamed for starting a pre-mature apocalypse that doomed the kingdom of man. Well, you can imagine this will totally suck if you are War. He managed to persuade the council in charge of the horsemen to let him return to Earth to investigate who was behind the false call in hope of clearing his name. When War returned, it has been 100 years since the apocalypse and the world lies in ruins and all mankinds are extinct. Only demons still lurk around fighting against roaming bands of angels.

Ok, at this point. by now you probably understand why I said the story is “loosely based” on the last book of the Bible, because in the Bible the most important thing about the end of days is about Jesus' return to earth (described in passages such as Matthew 24:36, 25:13). Therefore, one can say script writers for the game draws inspirations from the book of Revelation about the end of days and created a post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy story.

Welcome to the post-apocalyptic world of Darksiders


While some might call this blasphemous, but remember this is just a video game story. Furthermore, the story is all about War finding redemption and setting the wrongs right, which turns out to be quite interesting. Despite this game's secular origin, there are some interesting things to think about from the story. For example, a the main antagonist (actually a demon) tried to tempt War to join the bad side, saying to the game's hero “since the Creator has abandoned his creation, why should you still fight for the light and not join me to rule in hell?” Personally, I face this challenge as a Christians every now and then, especially in times of difficulty. Sometimes there seems to be this voice telling me that God doesn’t care, and He has abandoned me, but in reality this is just the devil's lies. In the story War overcame the demon’s temptation and lies and stayed on his original course. At that point, I was thinking, "what about me? Have I sometimes gave up to the devil’s lies and believe that God is not with me? How can I continue to trust in God? The answer is in the Bible, see John 5:24, and John 6:35-40, this is something worth reflecting about. Also in the story it showed that the bad guy became the bad guy because he thought he knew better than the Creator himself and wanted to take control (I will leave this to the would be players of this game to find out). Therefore, I think as far-fetched as the story is, in terms of spiritual and moral content the Darksiders story actually has some good moments that kind of rings home with some of challenges Christians face everyday, such as trusting in God, while knowing that God is in control and He knows better than any of us.


Gameplay:

At the first glance, Darksiders appears to be a God of War clone. However, my flatmate remarked that Darksiders actually bears a lot of resemblances to the Legend of Zelda games. As you take control of War, you can unleash some devastating powers upon your foes. The combat system is somewhat similar to Devil may cry series, as you hit the enemies your combo ranking goes up, and the keys of winning battles often lie in figuring out the patterns of your enemies movements and attack patterns rather than the typical one button mash action in most video games. There are lots, I repeat, lots of puzzles in this game. Some of the puzzles can be very challenging, and sometimes requires the player to think outside the box, but solving the puzzles are a lot of fun and satisfying. As the game progresses the player gradually get new items, often crucial to solve the puzzles that lie ahead. For example, early in the game the player acquires a cross blade, which is a boomerang type of weapon, not only can you use it in the fights, but it is also one of the most essential item in the game to solve the puzzles.The boss battles are very interesting as well, as these boss battles are often puzzles themselves that requires the player to observe the patterns and use the variety of War's arsenals, and formulating strategies to win the day.

The horsemen of apocalypse is as well equipped as Bruce Wanye!



Personally, one of my favourite features in Darksiders is the horseback combat. Later in the game, War regains his horse Ruin, this is fair enough because how can a horsemen be a horsemen without a horse right? The player can summon and un-summon the horse at any time, and the horse can be used in open areas to increase the movement speed, while riding the horse War's attack damage and range increases greatly. Without spoiling too much of the game, the horse is a crucial item in this game.

War rides on Ruin in Wild, Wild West!


There are other features in this game that makes it worth replaying, such as the difficulty option setting. The player can choose to play easy, normal or apocalyptic difficulty when starting a new game. In the game there are many artifacts and items scattered throughout the game world, by collecting these items the player can make War even stronger. It is also possible to back track to the different levels to acquire the artefacts that you missed previously. Towards the end of the game, the story actually requires the player to back track. The control input is very smooth, I only had very minor issues with the control. Overall, this game unshamely borrows a lot of the best gameplay elements from many classic games and blend them together. The result? It totally works and Vigil game managed to forge a unique gaming experience.


Video for War's horse, Ruin (the video is R-rated due to violence)


Graphics:

The design of Darksiders is probably one of the strongest points of the game. This game is very, very well designed. The lead designer is Joe Madureira, a comic book artist/author best known for his work on Marvel’s Uncanny xmen. The game world is very well presented, beautiful and atmospheric, from abandoned wild desert, mystery haunted tower, ruined post-apocalyptic city to demonic infested cathedral, with everything in between! The game world is superb and really grasps the feel of a comic book world, dark mysterious but full of colours, overall, the artistic style is a very unique. The character models are very cool! War looks really hardcore, it is everything that you will imagine a horsemen of apocalypse would look like. The monsters and bosses look scary and imaginative, in a comical way.

Hey look, it's treebeard! Or is it.. rockbeard?



The graphics for the PC version is pretty smooth, there are occasional glitches, but will not cause any major issues provides that you have at least a Geforce 8800GT graphic card. The lightning effect looks great in this game, while the textures are slight low for today’s video game standard, but the design of the game make up for the lack of high textures. Overall, Darksiders is a very pretty looking game.

Sound:

The sound effects in this game is impressive, I had to keep the volume on my speakers low the whole time, otherwise during combats it feels as if the soundwaves will tear open the roof of my little apartment. The soundtracks, on the other hand although epic, but lack something memorable in them. The voice acting in this game is top notch, almost on par with the voice acting in Batman Arkham Asylum.

Violence, language and sex/sexual references:

Violence: One should take note that Darksiders is a very violent game. As War takes on the demonic horde from hell, there is an overwhelming amount of decapitations, flying limbs, and blood animations in this game.

Language: There are minor coarse languages, no actual swearing words.

Sex/Sexual references: There is not sex/sexual references in this game, actually none of the male or female characters are scantily/proactively dressed/depicted in this game, which is pretty good compared to most of today’s video games.

Bugs/issues:

I’ve encountered a problem with gamepads in Darksiders, since this is a PC port apparently only Xbox 360 controllers are compatible with the game, but this wasn't stated on the cover box. Therefore this must be a game bug/issue, and I could only use my mouse and keyboard to play.

Conclusion:

I am very happy that I played Darksiders, this is a great action adventure game. If you enjoy playing 3rd person action adventure games then don’t miss this one. It is a blend between Zelda, God of War, Devil May Cry with a story and universe unique in its setting. The puzzles are challenging and fun to solve, the boss battles are engaing, epic and memorable. This is a game that won’t insult your intelligence!

Video trailer of puzzles (courtesy of Gametrailers)


Story: 8.5/10 – a unique and interesting story, far fetched yet original.

Gameplay: 9/10 – To be short, this game is great fun, lots of fun!

Graphics: 9.5/10 – Although the textures are a bit low for a PC game, but the game world is very well designed and beautiful, this is a pretty looking game!

Sound: 8/10 – The sound effect and voice acting are both top notch, but the sound track could use some improvement.

Violence: Very high level violence, although the box says MA+15, but I actually won’t recommend it to anyone below the age of 18.

Language: It is relatively clean, only a few coarse words, but no swearing words at all.

Sex/Sexual references: None

Recommended age of audience: 18+

Final score: 9.2/10 (superb!)


Friday, October 8, 2010

Video game review: Dynasty warriors 6

Release format: Playstation 3, Xbox360, PC-DVD, and Playstation 2.












KOEI's hack and slash video game Dynasty warriors is back in the 6th instalment of this "long lasting" franchise! Is this good or bad? Let's find out.



Story:

Loosely based on the historical fiction novel "romance of three kingdoms", Dynasty warriors 6 once again, follows a similar if not identical story to its predecessor. At the end of the 2nd century, China was divided into three factions by three warlords. Each faction is trying to become the supreme ruler of China, it became a warring period known as the "three kingdoms".

The player can take control of one of the 14 characters in the game, and start a quest to unify the middle kingdom.

Although the story sounds epic, which is because it is based on an epic novel, but for some reason when I was playing the game I just couldn't be bothered to pay any attention to the story at all, it is because the story was
told in uninteresting ways.

There are some minor spiritual contents in one of the earlier stages involving witchcraft and rituals that might offend more sensitive players. Otherwise, the story is actually not bad in moral or spiritual content.

Gameplay and design:

Dynasty warriors 6
is like all its predecessors, and this is a one button hack and slash game! One hit by your character can take out 50
people! Almost all the characters use excessively long and large weapon which they wield with great ease. The combat is pretty easy, just like all Dynasty warriors games. One thing worth mentioning is that Dynasty warriors game doesn't have a "kill count" as you, well, kill people, but instead it is called "knock out" count. So you actually don't "kill" people, but simply knocking them out.

Dynasty warriors 6 use
a new combo system called the "Renbu" system (I don't know what "Renbu" actually means). This means if you perform the combo right, your renbu goes up and you can do a even longer combo. This adds a bit more challenge to the gameplay as the player will fiddle through the buttons on their gamepads to try to get the combo right, and rush around the map to keep on fighting so their hard-gathered renbu ranking can stay up.
This time, there are 41 characters in this game. The player have to unlock the characters, each faction is given three charac
ters to begin with. As you play through the main campaign, by completing objectives you can unlock additional characters, but not all of them have story modes. For those characters with out story mode you can play in free mode and challenge mode.

As you play you can level up your characters by gathering experience points. EP can be gathered by either completing objectives or "knocking out" enemy soldiers/officers. The level cap is 50, and the player also have the option of discovering new weapons and horses, which they can equip their characters with.

The replay value is pretty high because of the free mode and challenge mode, this means you can keep on playing the unlocked maps with unlocked characters with your friend. Yes, this game has a two player option, this means your friend can play with you by choosing another character. However, in multi-player mode the screen is split and player 1 and 2 occupy the top and bottom of the screen respectively, which is a pain if you have a small screen, but fine if both of you are playing on a 50 inch TV.

In terms of single player, Dynasty gets boring very quickly as it quickly becomes a repetitive, one button mashing adventure. However, in 2 player mode this is where the game shines as with all its previous instalment. I remember the days when I used to play Dynasty Warriors 5 with my friend until 2 in the morning because we are trying to get 2000 KOs to level up our characters!

In terms of moral and spiritual content, Dynasty Warriors 6 is a pretty clean game, although the game is about war, but there are no blood or death, as I mentioned earlier you don't "kill" people but instead simply "knocking them out". There are no blood animations. However, the design for one of the female characters is in my opinion, more on the side of provocatively dressed but it is nowhere as bad as what you see on the posters on the street of Sydney CBD.


Graphics:

The graphics of Dynasty Warriors 6 is slightly better than the previous game, but not by much. The main improvement is the detail of character design, the texture of character design is now finer, otherwise it is pretty much the same as before. One thing worth mentioning is that KOEI managed to make some of the characters appearance really memorable this time.




Sound:

Personally, I've always love the soundtracks of Dynasty warriors games. Dynasty warriros 6 retains its trademark heavy metal soundtracks, mixed with hints of traditional Chinese music. Where else would you play a game about historical Chinese wars but with heavy metal music in the background? If this doesn't sound cool to you then you don't have a personality!

Concluding remarks:

Dynasty warriors 6 is pretty much the same as all the previous Dynasty warriors, with slightly improved graphics and slightly different gameplay. If you played one you've played them all. While it is not great or definitely not original, it is entertaining playing with your friend in co-op mode. Otherwise, everything about it is pretty average if you are going to play by yourself.

Rating:

Story: 5/10
Gameplay: 6/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 8/10
Moral content: 8/10
Language: no coarse language at all
Sex/sexual references: very minor (almost non-existent)

Overall rating: 6/10

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Book Review: The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes - Wordsworth Library Collection




I remember reading Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid, the stories were deeply enjoyable, the formidable detective left an lasting impression on my mind. I guess in some ways Sherlock Holmes was the reason why I first took interest in problem solving and logical deductions at some of my school subjects, such as Maths and physics, as a kid I imagined myself as Sherlock Holmes solving complex problems as I was solving mathematical problems at school, and I guess in a way this somewhat attributed to my small success in my later career as a student. It has been years since I first read it, until two years ago that I stumbled upon this collection of Sherlock Holmes. Published by Wordsworth Library, this heavy tome contains all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes in chronological order according to their date of publication. The collection contains all four novels: A study in the scarlet, the sign of four, the valley of fear, and the hound of Baskervilles, plus 56 short stories on the famous detective in 221 Baker Street. This huge book accumulates to 1408 pages and contains the original illustrations from the Strand Magazine.

All in all, I tried to read this book back to back, I spent an enormous amount of time reading through this book, while trying to formulate theories about the strange cases on my own based on the facts laid out at the beginning of each story. The character of Sherlock Holmes is interesting, and his quirky friendship with Watson provides humorous effects in some of the darker moments in their adventures. In my opinion, not all the stories of Sherlock Holmes are the same quality, some stories are better than the others. For example, stories such as the five orange pips, sussex vampire, Thor bridge, dancing man, red haired league and the six Napopleans are amongst the more memorable cases, with surprising twists and turns to form lasting impression on the readers' memories. The stories are gripping and kept me reading through this 1408 page book.

As I mentioned earlier, this book contains the original illustrations from the Strand Magazine by Sidney Paget. The illustrations are very well done and usually inserted at the right place in the text to demonstrate the important moments in the stories. The book is hard covered with gold writings for the titles. I picked it up for 24 dollars, the price is really affordable for a book so well composed and edited. If you have never read anything about the famous detective, or if you are a fan and want to get all of the Sherlock Holmes stories in one volume, then this is the book to get.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Movie review: The Expendables




I haven't been to the movies in a long time, after I saw the biggest boy's movie last night, I decided to write this review because as an audience, there is something that I really want to say about modern day movie making after seeing this film.

It was tempting to see Inception, because everyone is raving about how good it is,and what an in-depth film it is. While Inception is probably a really good movie, but I just feel like I've had enough of these modern day films with "in depth" and "complex storyline, it seems now days, a complex storyline and moody/dark cinematography is how people define a good movie. Action movie producers, directors and audiences seem to agree that a good action movie should contain following ingredients:

1)Contains some kind of complicated storyline that is difficult to follow, and lots of twist and turns to surprise the audience, despite how confusing it can be sometimes.

2) Contains million dollar CGI stuff.

3) Contains some kind of philosophical message that no one really understands, enough said here...

4) Contains a not so macho hero, preferably a metro-sexual, scrawny guy with thin arms and a feminine looking face to please the feminism movement.

5) Contains pointless random violence with no real meaning, usually done with good looking cinematography and has no real moral message.

6) Contains some kind of post-modern ideas, so what seem to be the bad guys are actually not so bad, and good guys are actually no so good because they believe in some absolute value... it seems movie makers are universally including this element saying, "let's make sure we put post modern stuff so we won't offend anybody".

All in all, as someone who watches a lot of movies, I often feel that modern movies are becoming too sophisticated to be enjoyable. Actually, I wonder if some people rate some of these "in-depth" movies highly because they don't really understand what it is about either, so they give it good rating so they don't embarrass themselves.

So personally, this is how I really feel "Modern day movies are too complicated and too pretentious to be properly enjoyed".

As an audience I've been craving for some old school actions where good guy kicking bad guy's butt kind of movie, so... In my mind I finally decided to see The Expendables instead of Inception. To be honest, I have been wanting to see this movie ever since I first heard about it.

The Expendables is directed, produced by Silvester Stallone, actually Stallone took part in writing the script as well. He also managed to pull together an all star cast, such as Dolph Lungdren (the Russian guy from Rocky 4, and the bad guy from Universal Solider), Jet Li, Jason Statham (Transporter, Crank...), Mickey Rourke, Terry Crew, Steve Austin, Randy Couture,both Arnold and Bruce Willis made cameo appearance, and of course Stallone himself as one of the protagonist.

By now you probably noticed that some of these action stars are from the 80's or the early 90's. Actually, if you are under 25 years of age you probably never heard of some of these stars. However, this is what made this movie so great, because Stallone could have used any nameless new actors for the cast, but the choice of the cast was done to show that in an action movie, you don't need over the top CGI, but it is actually better to have real actors performing the actions. These guys have been making this kind of movies decades ago, and though they might be old, but they are still the best at what they do, and that is making action movies.

The story of the expendables is really straight forward, it is about a group of mercenary soldiers who usually take on dangerous missions that no one would want to do, so they picked up this mission when they are supposed to eliminate some dictator in South America, and the mission took some twists and turns, as they eventually did the mission because they realized it wasn't just about the money.

While the script is no Citizen Kane, it is interesting enough to keep the audience wanting to watch it more. Together with humours presented in 80's one-liner style, there were dialogues made the entire audience in the cinema laughing uncontrollably.

The action was top notch, this movie is packed with intense martial art fights, fist fights, heavy machine gun shoot outs, explosions that promised to rain ultimate destruction on the baddies. Sensitive viewers beware that this is an action movie, and it is pretty violent. Personally I didn't have problems with the violence in this one, because it is violence that come as a result from good guys VS. the bad guys. Unlike the pointless violence in movies like Hostel, Sin City, No country for Old man etc..put in purely to shock the audiences. The violence in this 80's style action flick actually means something.

However, the camera can be a bit shaky at times, and sometimes it can be slightly difficult to see what is going on during a fight. However, the fights are so memorable and well done that the audiences will soon forget about this little inconvenience.

AS the credit of the movie started to roll, I really wouldn't mind watching it again, because after so many years, I finally get the feeling of actually enjoying an action movie, the feeling I had all those years ago when I first saw Die hard, Lethal Weapon, Robocop and Cobra. My head didn't ache from trying to understand the unnecessary complex plot so common in modern day films, and my eyes didn't hurt from watching the over-exuberant display of CGI stuff ever present in modern movies. I said to myself, wow! I actually had a GOOD TIME watching this movie!

This movie is pure fun, exciting, violent and explosive, a tribute to a glorious era long gone when the heroes were REAL MEN who butt-kicked the baddies with their bare hands, sometimes with heavy machine guns and grenades leading to massive explosion of all structures, all for the sake of protecting innocent people and the weak, and it is GOOD to be STRONG, because you can use it to help and uplift the weak. I grew up watching movies like these, and a part of me has been influenced by this kind of stuff, really simple and straight forward stuff, and I think this kind of influence is far better than what modern day media is trying to say to the kids now days.

I don't exactly know why I like The Expendables so much, maybe it is because I am old school,but mostly it is because I just love that through his latest movies Stallone has been assertively making a statement, a statement that has been on my mind and possibly a lot of other audiences out there for so long.. "when it comes to making movies, sophistication does not always equate to brilliance and audience satisfaction, and it is good to demonstrate moral messages through clarification and simple means".

This movie kicks ass! I give this movie 9 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Video game review: Star Wars: Force Unleashed the ultimate Sith Edition




A long time ago in a galaxy far far away..... ah yes, it's Star Wars brining to video gaming once again! Lucas Art has been developing a handful of video games based on the Star War franchise in the last few years, some of these include the critically acclaimed Knight of the old Republic, and its sequal Knight of the Old Republic 2, Jedi outcast, Jedi Academy 2 so on and so forth. Force unleashed is another Star War video game to join the franchise, so is it any good? Let me review this game for you.

Introduction:

Force Unleahsed wsa originally released on console only: playstation 2 and 3, wii, xbox360 and the like back in September 2008. However, Lucas Art decided to add three more chapters of the non-cannon ending to the Force unleashed game (the what if.. kind of ending) and re-released the game with title :Force unleashed - the ultimate Sith edition on PC in later 2009, so PC gamers can also experience what it is like to "unleash" the force!

Storyline:

To begin with, I love the story of Force Unleashed! The story takes place between the time of Episode 3 (the revenge of the Sith) and episode 4 (a new hope). The player will play as Galen Marek (starkiller), whose father was killed by Darth Vader during the purge of the last remaining Jedi. As a little boy, Galen Marek was adapted by Darth Vader after Vader killed Marek's father. Darth Vader pretended that it was he who saved the Galen Marek before the imperial troopers after Vader sensed that Marek has very strong force potentials. Vader raised Marek to be an ultimate Sith warrior, a raw force user who is totally bound to the dark side of the force, and will not hold back when using the force. Marek grew up in the most harsh way, Vader often push Marek to the point when Marek could be killed in the training, and Vader showed Marek neither love nor care, and installed Marek with values that he should only obey and have absolute loyalty to Vader and the dark side of the force. Marek became Vader's secret apprentice, and Vader was hoping to use Marek to assassinate Emperor Palpatine, and send Marek out to a few missions to purge the remaining Jedi. Later through Vader's betrayal, and under the guidance of a blind Jedi master, Marek will discover the true nature of the dark side and his master Darth Vader, and he will have to make a choice..

(warning, spoiler)
Personally, I think Galen Marek is the most interesting character in the whole star war universe, because he started out as a sith apprentice, brain washed by the propaganda of his evil master, and later discovered the evil nature of the dark side, and not only has to just make a change about himself, but minor spoiler here, Marek will have go out of his way to make a decision to sacrifice himself to save the ones he cares and loves by overcoming the tormented, and dark memories of his childhood under the parenthood of Darth Vader. During the story, Galen Marek falls in love with the pilot of his ship Juno, and I found it very touching that after Galen Marek's death at the end of the game, the blind Jedi master told Juno that, in all of Galen Marek's dark life, Juno was Galen Marek's one bright spot that he held down to until his death. Personally, I think this is a story about redemption, after Galen Marek realized that the dark side is evil and wrong, he turned to the light and did amazingly self sacrificial things, I think the story fits in perfectly with two passages: Isiah 43:18-19 "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert", and Philippians 3:13 "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus".



Gameplay:

This is an action game, so as Galen Marek, you will fight a lot, the story progresses by completing mission after missions. This game has the title of "force unleashed". Well, I have to say when you play the game you will really feel like you are "unleashing" the force. Galen Marek was trained by Darth Vader to use the force at no holds barred style, and since Galen Marek, as you will see can defeat Darth Vader and the emperor consecutively, he is no doubt the most power Jedi/Sith of his time. In the game, the light sabre action is intense, the amount of force power that gets used and its power of destruction and devastating, and makes the game quite fun to play. The game also uses a sort of "leveling up" system, as Galen Marek gather more experience, you can unlock and purchase new force powers or upgrade force powers. However, the gameplay can feel a bit repetitive, because the enemy AI isn't very well designed, and it becomes sort of a routines exercise to defeat enemies. The boss battles are quite hard, and will probably leave you to press buttons on your keyboards like a maniac. The control isn't very well designed, as it is quite hard to aim at the target with your light sabre. The mission design is also very linear.

Graphics:

For a PC game that comes out at the end of 2009, Force Unleashed isn't graphically impressive. The graphics are not bad, but when compared to Batman Arkham Asylum, Mass Effect 2, or God of War 3, the graphics is not in the same league with the newer games. However, the amount of gore and blood is minimal, there are no blood nor flying limbs from all the light sabre action.

Sound:

All the soundtracks are star war soundtracks, so scores from the Star war movies are the main score for the game. The voice acting is pretty good, and all the sound effects are very Star Warish.

Final rating:

Storyline (5/5) - Galen Marek is the most interesting and cool character in the Star Wars universe, and this is an interesting episode in the Star Wars universe based on teh theme of redemption and second chance at life to make the right choice. What a great and inspiring story!

Gameplay (3.5/5) - It is fun to play as Galen Marek the raw force user, he is very powerful and has awesome moves and powers. However, the gameplay becomes a bit too repetitive and the gameworld is too linear to have real re-play values.

Graphics (3/5) - The graphics isn't bad, but it is not very impressive either, it is at best average.

Sounds (4/5) - the soundtrack and sound effects make this game feel very star warish..

Final verdict (4/5) - To be honest, Force unleashed is not a particularly great game due to its average gameplay and graphics. However, the story is a gripping and touching one that makes the game worthwhile playing if you have about 10 hours to spend. I heard that Force Unleashed 2 is coming out, and I eagerly anticipate the release of force unleashed 2.

Video game review: Assassin's Creed 2





Two years after the release of the first Assassin's Creed, UbiSoft Montreal released their block buster title "Assassin's Creed 2" in November 2009 on all major video game consoles, the PC version was released in March 2010. This review will be based on my playthrough of Assassin's Creed 2 on PC.

Introduction:

The first Assassin's Creed took place during the 3rd crusade in the 1190's, where the player was exposed to a sand box style world in the crusader era. The interesting storyline certainly was the strongest point in the first game, however the biggest complain was the repetitive gameplay and the linearity of the side quests in the game, that made Assassin's Creed 1 a far from perfect game. In Assassin's Creed 2, UbiSoft Montreal has listened to the complains and feedbacks of the gamers, and have go out of their way to improve all the flaws in the first game. The game is till an open world with non-linear play, but with more varieties.

Story:
Assassin's Creed 2 is set in the renaissance Italy, and takes place 300 years after the events of the first Assassin's Creed. The player no longer takes control of Altaiir,but takes control of one of Altaiir's descends Enzio Auditore. Enzio's father belong to the league of Assassin's, and after a consipracy plot that leaves Enzio the only survivor of the Auditore family, Enzio set out to avenge his family by becoming an Assassins himself, in the course find out a much bigger consipracy plot by the templars. One very interesting thing is in Assassin's Creed 1, most of the story have already been revealed, so in AC2, the game developer really had to come up with a gripping storyline to keep the game interesting according to the tradition of Assassin's Creed games. The story is actually really good, this time the player feels more personally involved with the character of Enzio and his story, and every target or objective that you achieve feels like it's actually worth something. A word of warning to Christians, the story of Assassin's Creed 2 is based on Panspermia (the theory that human are created by alien from outer space), and the story also involves Adam and Eve, and also contains the altered Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit story and calls it the "truth", and also the story seem to progress towards the Mayan prophecy of 2012. I think that some Christian brothers and sisters out there might be very sensitive to this type of topics. Therefore if you are more sensitive person and is easily offended, perhaps it is good to re-consider before you buy this game. However, if you are not easily bothered by conspiracy theory, and is able to treat the whole game as merely entertainment that provides nothing more but enjoyment, then you guaranteed to find hours of intrigues and a thrilling, mysterious adventure ahead of you. One more thing, many fictinoal depctions of actual historical characters, such as Leonardo DiVinci, and Rodrio Borgia (later known as Pope Alexander VI) and more make appearances in the game as well.



Gameplay:

The gameplay of Assassin's Creed 2 has been improved the major improvements are:
1) Enzio now has a new arsenal of weapons, from 2 wrist blades, poison blade, smoke bombs to guns.
2) Enemy AI has been improved, for example if you hide in the hays to evade pursuit, now the enemy will stick their weapons into the hays and drive you out.
3) Enzio can buy armor and weapons, the equipments gets damaged and need money to repair.
4) There is a new living economy system at work in the game, now you will run a small city that you can upgrade and manage, in doing so the player will receive more money from tax, the player also has a small castle in the city.
5) The player needs to visit the doctor and buy portions to be healed from wounds now.
6) Counter attack is no longer as powerful as in Assassins Creed 1.
7) In every city there are secret Assassin's tombs that can be explored to unlock Altaiir's armor and sword, undoubfully the most powerful equipment in the game. THe background story of Altaiir's armor is very interesting as well.
8) The player controlled character can now swim in the game, as well as rowing a small boat.
9) THe missions have more variety, the main missions are no longer just go and assassinate someone, but involves strategic planning and more storyline/involvements with the gameworld and its characters.

The numerous changes in the gameplay are real improvements to the game, as makes the game more balanced and more fun to play.

Graphics:

The graphics in Assassin's Creed 2 is just as good as in Assassins' creed 1. The cities are really well designed, UbiSoft Montreal has keep up to their tradition of making the cities the exact replica of the cities in real life. The player will visit Florence, Venice, Tuscan, and a little bit of Rome. The cities are lively, the building designs are beautiful, when I was playing the game I changed the language so the main language spoken is Italian, with English subtitles, with the beautiful graphics and scenery . I felt like I was really immersed in the renaissance era, pacing through the city of Venice, Florence and Tuscan in the late 1400's. In addition, because the story is set in renaissance the cities are more colorful with more contrasts, compared to the yellow, dark atmosphere in Assassin's creed 1.

Sound:

The music scores of Assassin's Creed 2 are really good, the voice acting is excellent, I deliberately changed the audio to Italian and turned on English subtitle, the result is a phenomenal experience.

Final rating:

Story (4.5/5) - The story of Assassin's Creed 2 is really well written, with many surprising twists and turns that will keep you interested. However, Christian brothers and sisters beware of the Panspermia overtone, and the fictional/altered depiction of Biblical events and characters. If you are easily offended by this kind of things, I would recommend that you re-consider before playing this game. However, if you are like me, and can just play and enjoy the game for what it is and just treat it as entertainment and nothing more, then you will enjoy the story a lot, it is a hundred times better written than Dan Brown's DaVinci Code for sure.

Gameplay (4.5/5) - The vast improvement of gameplay really made AC2 a remarkable game, and suit the open/sand box style game world really well. However, my biggest complain about the game is the UbiSoft's new DRM technology. This means whenever you want to play the game, you have to be connected to the internet, because all your save games are online! For me this is extra ordinary inconvenient! Because if for some reason my internet connection breaks up when I am playing, then the game comes to a halt and jumps to the error message screen until the internet is back online. I already bought the game, and I think I deserve to play the game on my PC without having to be constantly connected to the internet! I think the DRM technology is really unfair on the consumers!

Graphics: (4.5/5) - The graphics in AC2 is amazing, however it seems like it is the same engine as AC1, however the graphics is still beautiful.

Sound (5/5) - I love the sound tracks in AC2, the music scores are very well composed classical musics to opera to suit the atmosphere of renaissance Italy.

Final verdict (4.5/5) - I am really happy with the second installment of Assassin's creed, UbiSoft has done a great job with this game, and it is a vastly enjoyable experience. However, I really think the implementation of the DRM technology is unfair on honest people who purchased legal copies of the game and should be removed.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Video game review: Mass Effect 2






Following the release of their epic RPG adventure "Dragon Age Origins" in 2009, Bioware released the sequal to the critically acclaimed "Mass Effect". Mass Effect 2, was released in Feburary 2010 on Xbox360 and PC, so how does Mass Effect 2 live up to the expectation? Or is ME2 another bad sequal? Let's find out.

Introduction:

I bought the collector's edtion of Mass Effect 2, the package is quite nice, comes with the game disc, as well as an addtional disc of behind the scenes bonus content for those who are interested in the process of game development. The collector's ediion also comes with a Cerberus network card, so owners of the collector's edition can access the and download bonus contents and DLC online.



In Mass Effect 2 players get to be Commander Shepard again to save the galaxy from a threat that endangers the human civilization. While the story sounds simple, the introduction of the game is certainly mind blowing. 5 minutes into the opening cinematic Commander Shepard died in action, when I played ME2 for the first time I was wondering where the story was going when my Shepard died 5 minutes into the game. Without spoiling too much storyline, Shepard is then resurrected by a pro-human organizaion called Cerberus, and started to collaborate with the mysterious "illusive man" on a suicide mission to save the galaxy from a dangerous threat to all.

Design and gameplay:

Having said this, if you have played Mass Effect 1 you will probably remember the game as a RPG, deep space adventure set in the future. Mass Effect 1 had a huge inventory system, and a traditional leveling up system for character progression as Shepard and his team mates gain experiences. In Mass Effect 2, the tiresome inventory system is gone, and instead of being able to change your armor and weapon half way throughout a mission by pressing the inventory key on your keyboard, now the players will have to visit the captain's cabin on Shepard's commanding ship prior to the start of the mission to choose the type of armor of weapon to use, which not only simplifies the inventory system, but also add a sense of realism. Bioware has claimed that the Mass Effect franchise will be a trilogy, and the choices and decisions you make in ME2 will be carried into Mass Effect 3 should you choose to import your commander Shepard in the future.

Mass Effect 2 is a very personal game, because if you have your saved game from Mass Effect 1, you can import your Shepard from Mass Effect 1 into Mass Effect 2 and start using that save file. All the choices you made from the first game will be carried into the storyline of the second game. This makes the game feel like "your story" and is a very nice feature.

Mass Effect 2 can be said as a real hybrid between an RPG and a 3rd person shooter. The combat system is very similar to "Gears of War" series, but only with more actions and biotic powers. The combat system is far more heavier than in ME1, which is a good change. It is also a very story driven game where every decision you make and very dialogue option you choose can have real consequences later in the game. The leveling up system of characters has been simplified a lot, instead of having a tedious and tiresome skill tree menu to add skills points to, now the player only have maximum 7 skills to level up, the skill builds are according to the character class. There are six character classes availiable in ME2: Soldier, Vanguard, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Engineer, each character class has its own unique skill tress and the play experience is very different from class to class, adding tremendous amount of replay value.

For most of Mass Effect 2, the players will find themselves mostly doing quests for Shepard's comrades, from recruiting missions to special personal quest missions. This is a real nice change from ME1 because as Shepard, you really get to know your squad members really well, and by doing their special missions, you can gain their loyalty which is very important to as if they will survive the suicide mission or not, and minor spoiler here, if you are such a lame commander and no one is loyal to you, then your commander Shepard can actually die at the end of the game. That means no import game for Mass Effect 3.

Score: (5/5)

Storyline:

Mass Effect 2 has a very strong storyline, there are so many cinematics in the movie at times you feel like you are watching a movie, only that you are in the movie making choices. AS a Christian, I did not really find any objective contents, there were some spiritual contents in the game when a squad member was talking to Shepard about "cause and effect". One of the character, who is a cyborg is called "Legion", the cyborgs claims this name because they are "many", which is a reference from the Bible. The violence level is pretty high, as the combat system is very heavy. YOu don't see blood very often because it's all "laser guns". There are minor sexual contents in the game, as commander Shepard you can choose to "romance" different squad members, or you can choose not to, which is fair enough. All in all, I did not find many offensive contents, but those who are sensitive to the idea of "alien life forms" should be warned, as the game world is filled with alien life forms and most of Shepard's squad members are aliens. My take is that this is just a game, it's entertainment and that is as far as it goes.

(4.5/5)

Graphics:

Mass Effect 2 uses Unreal engine 3.5, the graphics in this game is jaw dropping, the character animation is particularily well done, Bioware once again lives up to its reputation in this area. The artistic design of the game world is beautiful, at times I feel like the different cities and worlds are something out of the movie "Blade Runner".

Score: (5/5)

Sound:

The music in Mass Effect 2 is a vast improvement to ME1, the music is less ambient and spacey compared to ME1. The voice acting is amazing, Martin Sheen's voice acting as the "Illusive man" is probably the best voice acting in all video games I've seen yet.

Score (5/5)

Final thought:

So far I have completed the game three times, that is a total hour of 96 hours. I am starting a new game on the 4th go and I am stll not bored yet. It's just that everythng about this game is so top of the notch and is highly enjoyable. No wonder why all the critics review Mass Effect 2 as a better game to the famous "God of War 3" which was released on PS3 in may this year. In my opinion, Mass Effect 2 is one of those games that can be seen as on par to the legendary "Baldur's Gate" series, and I can't wait for Bioware to release its finale "Mass Effect 3".

Final socre: (98/100), superb game, don't miss it!

Daniel's "game of the year" choice.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Book review: Legend of Drizzt book I: Homeland



Introduction:

Two years ago, as I was browsing in the bookshop, I came across a boxset of books that captured my attention. It was entitled "The Legend of Drizzt". My guess is, if you lived your teenage years in the middle to late 1990's and was into some sort of dungeon and dragon stuff (whether it be the boardgame or the video game), you will probably have heard of the character Drizzt. Initially, I wasn't really sure about these books, I mean, fantasy novels based on a character from the Dungeon and Dragon universe? My instinct told me do not pick up these books because they will probably have meaningless stories and empty characters with endless combat scenes.


However, I was really attracted by the cover design, so I bough the first set of Legend of Drizzt, and it costed about 30 bucks for the trilogy. Later on that night, I started reading the first book called "Homeland". I realized these novels are written more for young adults, but oh boy after reading a few chapters I was totally hooked, and went back and bought the next box set.

Up till now, I have all thirteen books of Legend of Drizzt on my bookselve, written by RA Salvatore. I haven't finish reading all thirteen books yet, but I will start off by reviewing the first book out of the thirteen.

First of all, I have to say, Drizzt is probably one of the my most favourite character of all time, and I will explain why in this review.

Amongst the Drizzt books I have read, Homeland is my third favourite Dizzt book. This is the "origin" story, the introduction of who Drizzt is, and gave a good background into his story. I am not usually the kind of person who will get very emotional from watching a movie, or reading a book, but here I admitt that tears came out of my eyes a few times while I was reading Homeland, especially at the end, I got really really emotional.

Story:

So what is this story about? Well, the story of Drizzt is set in a realm that is similar to the Middle Earth, so you have elves, human, dwarves, halfings, gnomes, orcs, goblins, demon kinds.. so on and so forth. In Homeland, the reader is introduced to the birth of a boy named Drizzt, who is born as a race of elves with ebony skin, his people are known as the "drow". The dark elves/drow are reputed to be the evil race of people across the world, their society is constantly filled with power struggles, death, murder and polotical conflicts arising for the sake of personal ambitions. The drow culture is a female dominant society, where the female children are raised to be priestees and usually hold high position in a house. All the drow worship an evil goddess which known as the Spider Queen. The male children, are treated as less important, and are usually trained to be fighters or wizards.

So Drizzt was born into the second most powerful house in the drow city, being a male he was treated with cruelty by his mother and sister, and at young age, he was sent to the fighter school, to be trained as a fighter so he can carry out his duties as an assassin or a solider for his mother. There he met the best drow weapon master who ever lived, Zaknafein, Zak trained Drizzt in the art of sword fighting, but also taught him in secret, moral codes and principles totally against the self centred culture of drow. As Drizzt grew up, Zak and him became very close friends. Also because the way Drizzt has been taught, when he left the fighter school to rejoin his family and the society he became foreign to the selfish and self centred cultur of the drow society. In other words, Drizzt couldn't fit into the selfish and self centred ways of his people because he belives in different things. The story then goes on to show Drizzt's struggle to keep up his principles, and there are some tear wrenching moments of sacrifices and determination.

What I got out of it:

To me, the main theme of Homeland is about the difference between living a real life and simply surviving. Towards the end of the book, as Zak, who turned out to be Drizzt's realy father sacrificed himself to save Drizzt, he said " Do more than just survive, my son, as I have done, Live!" Two years ago when I was reading this book, as I read this sentence it really put a question in my mind. What does it really mean to live? What is the difference between being alive and just survive?

I was thinking, I wonder if I am living in a society much like the Drow society described in the book, where every decision and acts from people are driven by selfish ambition and survival instinct. In the book, Zak, Drizzt's father realised something is wrong with the drow society, and therefore installed Drizz with different values and belief, but Zak ultimately was unable to live his life according to the values that he belives in, because he just wanted to survive in the Drow society by acting like everyone else. There was much regret in him, therefore at the end of his life, he called out for his son to "live and not to just survive". I think there is a lot of similarity between my situation and Zak's situation. This really made me reflect on myself as a Christian, was I really living for Chrit and is living out my live as a real Christian? Or was I simply trying to survive and fit in? Then I realized I was simply surviving more than really being alive, how many times had I taken short cuts to achieve a goal, and how many times have I decided to join the crowd instead of having the courage to speak out what is true? I was indeed, surviving more than living.

For me, even though this is a secular book written by a secular author, written for young adults, but this is also one of those stories that really challenged me and made me think about myself and where I was with God. I also have to admit, two years down the line, the challenge to be really alive for Christ rather than just survive is a daily struggle I am still facing, and i have no doubt that this struggle will continue till the day I die.

Writing and style:

The character of Drizzt is created by the author RA Salvatore, I have never heard of him unti I picked up the Drizzt books. Salvatore is really good at writing combat scenes, it's almost like if you can picture the dance of Drizzt's sword in your mind as you read the words. However, some people have said the first novel "Homeland" has a very slow pace and is difficult to get into. My view is that, if you get through the first 3 chapters, the pace picks up. However, Homeland also has a lot of character development and there are many things worth thinking about as you read it, so take it slowly. Having said that, I do have to say Salvatore is by no means a literature award winning writer, so do not expect to see use of wordy and complex words in his books.

Final verdict: (4.5/5)

As I said earlier, personally Drizzt is one of my most favourite characters. "Homeland" really is a great book to get insight into Drizzt's story, and a lot of the context reminds me of the things that I should be reflecting about, and things that I used to believe but don't believe anymore. Besides the action scenes and the cool characters, personally I was realy moved by the story and its underlying implications. If you are like me, the kind of person who enjoys stories about things taking place in a fantasy world, then you might find some heartwarming and tear wrenching entertainment about this very human character.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Game review: Assassins Creed





Assassins Creed, is a video game developed by UbiSoft Montreal in 2007. The console versions were first released in November 2007, the PC version, which is also a director's cut was released in the first quarter of 2008. This is an action/stealth game, where the player takes control over an Assassin (Alatir) during the 3rd crusade. The setting is basic in historical events and characters, with many elements of fictions involved.

Plot:

The story of Assassins Creed is an interesting one, it started with a character called "Desmond", being put in a machine known as the "Animus". In the story, apparently our ancestors' memories can be stored in our DNA, and by entering into this Animus machine, one can retreive and "unlock" these hidden memories in our DNA. So in this game, Desmond is being put into Animus after being captured by a secret organisation in 2012, and forced to re-live his ancestor's memory.



Then Desmond goes back to the 3rd crusade, where the Saracens controlled Jerusalem and Damascus. The player takes control of a character known as Altair, who belongs to a organisation called "Assassins', historically known as "Hashasins". Altair is one of Desmond's ancestors. The story started of with Altair in the temple of Solomon, tryinjg to retrieve a artifact known as "piece of Eden". The story then revolved aroud Altair trying to retreive the artifact in a race against the Knight Templars. The story is full of twists and surprises, and is quite orginal as it becomes clear later that the real threat is more than just the struggles between the assassins and templars.

Minor spoiler: As you play the game, you will realize that the story is using the same style as Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code", and it involves conspiracy theories. Towards the end, people might find the story a bit offensive because it is almost as if the story writer is writing a story to say that all regligions are consipracies. Personally, I didn't find the story offensive at all, because I think it is important to remember that both the story here in this game and the novel Da Vinci Code are "fictions" rather than truth, and they are or entertaiment rather than truth searching. So as long as you can remember to seperate this fiction from reality, then you will find the story quite enjoyable and will keep you interested. However, do remember that Christians already know the truth, it is all written in the Bible. Otherwise, enjoy this game.

Gameplay:

Assassins Creed is quite original. The game design is really amazing, the cities are designed according to the real scale, and filled with citizens and ordinary people. The game world is set in the open world, meaning that you can go anywhere at anytime. As an assassins, you have many different abilities, such wall climbing, long distance jumping. You will also have a variety of weapons at your disposal to get your assassinating missions done. The sword fighting in this game is really good, the combat animations are amongst top in the games released in 2007/8,

You also get a variety of missions, such as rooftop races, assassination missions, protect the citizens, so on and so forth. However, the gameplay really suffers at this point because the missions are very repetative. While playing this game, I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again. The counter attack move was not balanced well, as combat became way too easy and you can easily take down 20 enemies by using counter attack alog. The lack of mission variety and the unbalanced combat system can make the game seem pretty boring at times. However, just when you think you don't want to play it anymore, the main storyline will drag you in again.

Graphics:

The graphics is probably the strongest point in Assassins Creed, the movements are fluidic, the cities and environment loook amazing. It was an awesome experience to stroll through the cities.



Final verdict:

Story: 4/5
The storyline of Assassins Creed is really interesting and full of surprises (that's if you manage to sit through the repetative missions and get to the end), much more interesting than Dan Brown's Da Vici Code. However, if you are a Christian and playing this game, just keep in mind that this is ficiton, and is for entertainment. While the story is interesting, it is for fun only and should not be taken seriously.

Gameplay: 3/5
While it is fun to jump around on the rooftops and assinate your targets using cool weapons. The lack of mission variety and the easy combat quickly makes the game really boring and repetative.

Graphics: 4.5/5
The graphics is simply stunning, the city design is really, really good.

Final score: 3.5/5

I became quite interested with crusader history and actually gained a lot of historical and geographical knowledge after playing this game. The game is good, with interesting storyline and everything else. However, it is way to repetative and can be a bit boring. However, UbiSoft Montreal should be praised for its groundbreaking design and concepts.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Movie review: The Watchman


The Watchman is a 2009 American superhero film directed by Zack Snyder (director of 300). It is originally a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The original comic book is a series of 12 issues graphic novels. The movie, is an adaptation of the comic book. I remember seeing this film in the cinema when it came out a year ago in 2009, and today I'd like to review this movie.

The movie is set in 1985 New York in an alternative time line, when the Cold War was still going on. In this "world", groups of superheroes gathered and started to fight crimes in the 1930's, and they disbanded after one of the superheroes died a violent death. A few decades later, another group of superheores get together and formed the "watchman". These superheroes made some real impact on American history, such as saving JFK from being assassinated, and helped America to win the Vietnam war. In the 1980's the watchman was outlawed by the American congress, and they disbanded. However, the movie starts where one of the watchman member started to investigate the mysterious murder of ex-superheroes, and eventually it leads to a much bigger and deeper conspiracy.

So without spilling too much of the story, this is the general background of the watchman universe. Now, being a huge fan of superhero movie myself, I was anticipating this movie for many months before it came out in 2009. Especially after finding out about the setting of the movie plot line. However, when I finally saw the film I was not only disappointed, by greatly offended as well.

Let me get on to the bad:

1) First of all, in the movie there was a character named Dr. Manhattan, the leader of the watchman, he had a lab accident and became a God like character who is all powerful and immortal, as cool as it sounds the character design is extremely awful. In the movie, the good Dr. walks around stark naked with a glowing blue penis swinging between his legs almost all the time. I do not understand why this character has to be designed this way, why couldn't he just wear some underwear?

2) Seconldy, there is an very explicit sex scene in the movie, featuring two of the superheroes having sexual intercourse for almost 5 minutes. I have to say the content was really explicit, and it was like watching porn in a movie theatre. The death scenes are also full of blood and gore.

3) Thirdly, and this is the most offensive part, is the ending. I will not spoil the story or the ending here. However, I was greatly offended by the ending, because the ending promotes the idea of "the end justifies the means", and in that there is no good or evil, just what we do to benefit and ensure our continual existence. Personally, I think this is Hollywood at its best in promoting the post-modern culture. As a Christian, I found the ending totally against the teaching of Jesus and the Bible. I also do not understand why filmmakers are beginning to make movies that promotes post-modern cultures, nor the audiences that praise this kind of movie for its "deep and complex plot and meaning". Have people grown tired of watching good heroes fighting bad things? Are we a society that has reached the point when we have finally think we can make up our own standard to suit our needs? What does the Bible say about the standard of good and bad? If you decide to watch this movie, it might be good to think this over after the film, and compare the teaching from the Bible against the underlining meaning of the movie's final ending.

Now onto the good:

1) The special effects are quite good and very well done.

2) The movie definitively feels like a comic book adapation, Zack Snyder did a very good job in directing the movie, a touch of imagination meets reality, but still manage to keep the dark, graphic novel atmosphere.


3) Dr. Manhattan's philosophy about the universe and life is quite interesting.

In general, the ratings are:

Video and presentation 4/5: Zack Snyder did a good job in directing the film, the atmosphere and the special effects are very good.

Sound and music: 3/5 I cannot remember the soundtracks, however the sound effects were pretty impressive.

Story: 1/5 I was greatly offended by the final ending and its underlying implications, the story is full of twists and surprises, but I think praising God's standard of good and bad is more worthwhile than praising a complex and original story that goes against what Jesus teaches us in the Bible.

Final verdict: 3/5 I really like the film for its design and atmosphere, but I just hate the message of what this film is about. If you want to watch this film, it is fine as long as you don't get pulled in by the whole post-modern philosophy. Please note the nudity, explicit sexual content, violence and gore might upset sensitive viewers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Movie Review: Wolfman (2010)


The movie industry loves making movies about vampires and werewoles. People seem to be really fascinated by these legendary creatures. In the latest addtion to the horror movie genre is the remake of the 1941 classical horror movie "wolfman". In 2010, the year of remakes, is this remake another worthy addition to the already existing classics or is it a flop?

Well, to begin with, Wolfman has solid casts. From the award winning actor Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt. These are good actors, and the movie itself is directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park 3, October Sky). Just by looking at the actors and the director, the team seemed to be going somewhere.

THe story of WOlfman started off by a character named Lawrence Tobolt going home to Blackmoor England to investigate his brother's murder. As he investigated into the murder he found out there is a nightmarish creature who has been killing people, and eventually Lawrence is bitten by the creature and turned into a werewolf himself. The story then goes on and gradually unfold, telling the bizzare tale of the origin of the werewolf curse, and a supposed "twist" at the end of the movie which is the typical Hollywood style "twist" that won't surprise the audiences at all.

The presentation of Wolfman is quite good, it is very dark and in the first 30 minutes of the movie the filmaker actually managed to build suspense, however it all goes downhill from there as the plot becomes very predictable. The biggest weakness of this movie is the predictability of the plot, the scipt writer gave away too many hints for the audiences to know what the ending will be like half way in the movie, and this really destroyed the film.

However, the special effect of the wolfman transformation is really good and realistic, the appearance and the transformation sequence of the wolfman is actually quite believable. I also like the dark atmosphere, the atmosphere really suited the theme of this movie. The sound effect is pretty good as well, however the score is pretty average.

Personally, I do not see any objectionable contents in this movie. Besides the violence and the gore might upset more sensitive viewers. However, because the movie is so dark, all the blood and gore cannot be seen clearly anyway, the blood actually appear black because all the werewolf actions takes place at night. However, I also did not see any contents that has anything to do with the teaching from the Bible. This is the kind of movie when you just walk in, eat pop corn and drink coke, turn your brain off and waste 2 hours for relaxation.

Final verdict:

I was pretty disappointed with the remake of Wolfman, because this is a movie with so many potentials yet wasn't realized because Hollywood decided to once again use the pop corn flick formula. The solid cast, special effect, and marketing promotion have sort of gone to waste.. The most frustrating thing is that, the result is not a good movie, but it is not even a bad movie because it is actually quite entertaining, this is something that could have been a classic, but reduced to an average 2 hour long pop corn flick. The director Joe Johnston have promised an extended edition of this movie when it comes out on DVD, and claimed the original cut has more character development, so if you haven't seen this in the cinema yet, and is thinking of seeing it, I'd say hold your horses and wait for the extended DVD version.

Score: 2.5/5 (average)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book review: A brief history of time


As a follower of Christ, and also as someone who is generally passionate about physics and has a background in engineering, I really enjoy reading books on cosmology, because personally I find the more I understand how the universe is operating, and its origins and laws, the more it fills me with awe and admiration of how beautiful and powerful God is.

So today, I would like to review a book called “a brief history of time” by Stephen Hawking. Let me start by giving some info about Stephen Hawking:

Professor Stephen Hawkings, a British theoretical physicist, is without doubt one of the most brilliant mind in recent human history. He was also the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a position previously held by people like Isaac Newtown. His famous research works include the theoretical prediction that black holes can actually emit radiation, now days now as the “Hawking radiation”.

He wrote quite a few famous books about physics and science. From books for the general public such as” the universe in a nutshell”, to the more technical books such as “God created the integers: mathematical breakthroughs that changed history”.


So, what is this book “a brief history of time about? Well, as the title suggests this is a book that introduces the general public to many topics in cosmology such as: black hole, big bang, and light cones. I have to say that this book is quite well written, because Hawking really did manage to write and explain physics and Maths in ways that the general public can understand. Throughout the whole book, the amount of “xyzqed” equations are practically non-existent, except the famous equation by Einstein E=mc^2.

Having said this book talks about subjects in cosmology, essentially this layout of this book follows a very logical progression, I will list them here:

1) Hawking started off by introducing the history of mankind’s research on universe.
2) Then he started to talk about the concept of space and time, and then moved into Einstein’s special theory of relativity and why it is needed for us to understand what space and time is, and how this leads to the mathematical conclusion (from special and general theory of relativity) that the universe, has a beginning and will have an end.
3) With the understanding of space and time, Hawking then started to talk about the expanding universe based on our understanding of space and time, and provided some recorded experimental proofs of an expanding universe, in conjunction with the well know blue-shift and red-shift phenomenon (the Hubble’s law).
4) Hawking then started to talk about the uncertainty principles, and at the end conclude that although we don’t have a unified theory of general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, but we do know what the shapes of the unified theory should “look like”.
5) Next, the elementary forces and particles of the universe is discussed, and the fascinating subject of “black hole” is discussed, and the fate and the origin of the universe is discussed.
6) Hawking then started to talk about the arrow of time, by invoking the laws of thermodynamics, this is a very useful chapter for people who wish to know more about the arrow of time, and its implications such as why things decay, or why cold things can’t make hot things hotter.
7) Finally, Hawking concluded the book by talking about the unification of physics, and a “theory for everything”.

So yes, this is basically what this book is about. It is short, but gives really good general summary of where we are in terms of the discovery of our universe.

Throughout the book, Hawking shows that he has agnostic view about God. His view on God is probably more similar to Einstein’s view that God reveals himself through the physical laws that governs the universe, but does not intervene with the universe and its events.

As a follower of Christ, I believe that God is the author of everything we know and don’t know, but also God does care and His finger prints are in every pass moments in this universe. When I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but keep thinking, wow how amazing is our God, the creator of space and time, relativity equations, big bang, arrow of time, black holes, elementary particles and forces of nature etc., these are all very mind blowing things that really took my breath away. For me, it always fills me with awe how God can make everything out of nothingness. Just to think of how God can create a singularity that caused the big bang, and how that ties in with the laws of thermodynamics, and the elementary particles and forces so and so forth. It is like everything is created and written so the mechanics of the universe works like a perfectly designed engineering masterpiece that can harbour and nourish life on earth.

Therefore, if you have some interest in cosmology, or are just someone who wishes to see the beautiful mind of God and his design but doesn’t have good background in physics, then this is the book for you. Hawking is agnostic, and in the book he did not attack on any religious concepts of any sort, but simply stated at the end that, if we can find a unified theory of everything, then we can know the mind of God. I don’t want to comment on Hawking’s statement, but however I would like to ask, even if we know the theory of everything, isn’t it more important to know the will of God and His purpose for us in life? I always think after we know the purpose of the creator who made the “theory of everything”, then if we do discover the “theory of everything” one day, this theory would simply show us how beautiful and mighty the creator of everything is, and how we can apply it for the better of the world.

If you want to further reading, then I would also suggest “Just six numbers” by Martin Ree, and “The origin of the universe” by John D. Barrow. If you have good mathematical and physics background, you can also read “Anthropic cosmological principle” by Barrow and Tipler (this book is very hard to find, it took me a long time to locate it).

Book rating: 4.5/5 Strongly recommended