Monday, 14 December 2015

Missing In Action: Where Have My Reviews Gone?

~ Greetings readers! ~

First of all, thank you to anyone taking the time out to read this post. It means a lot to me that my reviews have been read by so many people - maybe they aren't big numbers to some, but to me, as an aspiring critic, it means the friggin' world. This blog was a way for me to get my ass into gear, and hey, it worked! 

Thing is, this place hasn't been updated since my Gotham season 1 review (and no, I haven't watched any of season 2 yet, as I've heard how awful it's gotten). Why so? 

Well, one thing you may have noticed is that even when I did upload my work, it was very sporadic. The main reason for this is my ongoing battle with mental health issues; though I'm happy to say I finally plucked up the courage to see a doctor about it, and I'm now on medication. I've always suffered with really bad spurts of motivation, and even when something excites me, I find it hard to actually open my laptop and start typing. Sure, I'm proud when I do get round to writing something, but it happened so rarely that I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Secondly, my life has been pretty much flipped around after finishing my A Levels - I'm now a fully fledged university student! Needless to say it hasn't been the best, nor the worst, experience, but I'm happy with both the degree itself and the university I chose. 

This is where the titular question comes into play - I've begun regularly writing for our student newspaper, The Courier, predominantly (gasp) in the Film section, though I've also branched out to do a few gaming and TV articles too. It's definitely different than what I'm used to, having to stick to a word limit and meet deadlines. I'm so grateful to have this opportunity though, and despite some perhaps thinking it's not a big deal, this is super important work experience I can't miss out on - especially as writing about films is what I want to do as a career.

Hence forth, I probably won't be using this blog much, but expect a post in the New Year detailing all 100 films I watched as part of my New Years resolution in 2014, and a Star Wars: The Force Awakens review (eeeee!). I've listed all of my articles currently available online below for you all to read, as well as my author page on The Courier's website and my Twitter account so you can stay up to date with my shenanigans. Again, thanks for reading this, and I hope whoever you are, that you'll continue to support my work in the future. 

Stay kawaii,
Zoë x


Contact Details

Twitter: @ZoeSaysStuff
Author Page: My Courier Articles!


Sicario Review: Here!

The Big Bang Theory Critique: Here!
Top 5 Lush Xmas Products: Here!
Why cross medium films are always awful: Here!
The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse Review: Here!
Why cinematography is the most important aspect of filmmaking: Here!
The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Bruce Willis: Here!
Top 10 Christmas Films (Mine is the piece on Muppets Christmas Carol): Here!
The Night Before Review: Here!

And just for fun, here's my Jason Todd Batman: Arkham Knight fanfic (oops, spoilers): Here!


Tuesday, 5 May 2015

GOTHAM - Season One Review

As the third addition to the current evergrowing DC Comics television line up, Gotham has certainly lived up to it's titular city's namesake - often corrupt with filth, but regularly saved by (several) dark knights in not-so-shining armour. Like the world's inhabitants, the writers of this FOX series seem to be tiptoeing in both the good and bad of artistic endeavours, and it's unclear as to how the show will progress come Season Two.

The greatest strength of the series has, and most likely will remain to be, the mob subplots. Seeing Don Falcone and Sal Maroni battle it out on the small screen is something we had never seen before in major non-comic Batman media, and it was a refreshing breather from all the forced supervillain escapades (more on that later). Most notably, Robin Lord Taylor has breathed new life into the Penguin; a slimy yet whiny sadist who is willing to do anything to get to the top of the criminal underworld, and is by far the standout of the show. Don't be surprised if you often find yourself wishing there were more scenes with this bird of prey. 

The GCPD also rightfully has a large amount of screentime, and it's clear the writers love exploring the corruption within this false beacon of hope. Ben McKenzie plays a solid Det. Jim Gordon; he's far too angelic compared to the more realistic Jim we know from Batman: Year One, but as a main protagonist, we do see the struggles he goes through as he attempts to clean up the mess his fellow officers have made, and when he reaches his breaking point, it's oh so satisfying to see him both verbally and physically kick ass. It also goes without saying Donal Logue was a fantastic casting choice for the wise cracking, no bullshitting Harvey Bullock, who is a near bang on depiction of his Batman: The Animated Series and comic book iterations. Most of the show's best humour comes from him, and he's an excellent foil to Gordon's white knight perception of policing. 

Going up against this bromance is the surprisingly heartfelt performances from David Mazouz and Sean Pertwee as a young Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth. The former brings a lot of humanity to the role, and although his progression from mourning orphan to full on brooding criminal investigator is unevenly paced, he's a very likeable kid who was able to pull off this mature role pretty well, considering the minimal amount of exploration Bruce's childhood has had in mainstream media. Pertwee is also a great choice for Alfred, with the character's military history often coming into play in the narrative, and his gruff English accent adding all the more witty charm to his performance. Considering that the first scene of the show depicted the Wayne's iconic death (excellently shot and edited by the way), these two had a lot of chemistry to pull off to convince us they could become a family, and they didn't disappoint - you may find yourself reaching for your Bat-Tissues every couple of scenes with them.

Ultimately, the show seems to work best when it's allowed to be subtle and able to fully explore the characters it depicts. Selina Kyle initially exerts far too many unsubtle feline mannerisms (going so far as to actually call herself Cat - really?), but over the course of the season, she is able to build a genuine emotional connection with Bruce and there's some excellent foreshadowing to their future involvement with crime. Sadly, the show is often far too goofy to stomach.

That is not to say I dislike silly superhero escapades - on the contrary, I can't get enough of them. However, the ratio in Gotham is considerably unbalanced, and often unintentionally leads to laugh out loud moments. Indeed, the more 'out there' concepts of the Batman mythos such as a man who kills people with weather balloons and another who drags a fridge down the street in a screaming Venom rage are greatly appreciated, but they tend to be depicted too over-the-top to actually be taken seriously; the frequent exaggerated performances of side characters do not aid this in the slightest, looking at you Barbara. 

It's this that brings the show down a fair amount, in addition to forcing big villain names for the sakes of maintaining viewership. These aren't necessarily always bad, as Jonathan Crane Sr.'s origin episodes showed us, but these anecdotes nearly never play into the main story, which even then is loosely tied together by minor subplots. There was just too much going on, and even by the season's finale there were far too many questions left unanswered. You'll regularly scratch your head at how set pieces are introduced then quickly revoked later in the season, or just not addressed at all.

Perhaps most frustrating is that character development is incredibly sudden, often with little prior warning and, more annoyingly, intentionally fulfilling the needs the narrative structure. This is particularly the case for Edward Nygma and Barbara Kean, who were reduced to a lovestruck puppy and traumatised (and incredibly pestering) self-loather respectively. Similarly, Fish Mooney becomes slowly reduced to simply filling in airtime come the second half of the season, with an initially entertaining performance by Jada Pinkett-Smith degrading into an overconfident heterochromian who's only purpose is to complete Penguin's character arc.

In fact, it's clear to see that the show was forced to take a sudden turn after it was granted extra episodes. Villain rating traps were used to draw in mainstream Batman fans (looking at you 'Jerome'), several key characters such as Renee Montoya and the Mayor are written off the show, and CGI suddenly made it's way into the action. FOX seem to have been puppeteering the writers to meet the demands of the everyday audience, and thus the restriction on artistic freedom is heavily present in later episodes of the season. Not to say the second half of the series is wholly without merit (The Ogre for example turned out to be a surprisingly refreshing original villain); the show just seemed to need to conform to network standards moreso in those episodes. 

However, the show can be smart with it's audience, and the writers really do shine when they get to play with their authentic Batman toys. There's blink-and-you'll-miss-it references to classic tales such as The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, and the aforementioned Year One, not to mention the stellar amount of C list characters the series has included, with Zsasz and Leslie Thompkins having pretty memorable roles. It's a shame then that this is often tossed aside for the sake of forced romances (four to be precise), dragged out 'dramatic' tension and goofy character mannersims. 

In conclusion, Gotham is far from becoming a rival to The Flash's outstanding first run, but is also still above the trainwreck of Arrow's third season. Season One is can be best summarised as a board of executives attempt to please what they think mainstream viewers want in a Batman origin anthology, when they should instead be writing a Gotham Central adaptation. Needless to say, the story arcs of this first series are undoubtedly rushed, and we can only hope that the show will see better days when the next chapter continues these characters struggles in the one city that never truly sleeps. 

Score: 6/10

Monday, 3 November 2014

Dracula Untold - Review

Does this re-imagining of cinema's favourite fanged antagonist bring back life to an undead franchise?

 With countless variations to the character's portrayal across the history of cinema, Bram Stoker's Dracula has become an icon of both movies and literature. No surprise then, fast forward to the 21st Century and Universal Studios are as keen as ever to reboot all of their classic monster movies for modern audiences, starting off with the bloodsucker in question. However, Dracula Untold fails to rise above into originality and instead follows formulas we've all become familiar with, whether through set design or themes, leading to what culminates into a film that is less Christopher Lee, more Lord of the Rings.

Luke Evans plays our hero, Vladimir 'The Impaler' Tepes, current ruler of Transylvania under threat from Dominic Cooper's Turkish Sultan Mehmed II, who requests 1000 young boys join his army or face inevitable war. Cue 'Vlad' striking a deal with Charles Dance's ancient vampire (a scene filled with cheesy dialogue and homo-erotic undertones), allowing him to become a sharp-toothed killing machine for three days in order to defeat Mehmed's army. The convoluted catch? Should he drink human blood within this time, he remains a vampire for eternity; which ultimately leaves the audience scratching their heads as to how this would be a bad thing, living forever with god-like powers and all, and where Mr. Exposition pulled all these rules from in the first place. 

The film confusingly attempts to portray Vlad as both intimidating and sympathetic; he's a family man, doing anything to protect his son and wife Mirena (played oh-so-blandly by oh-so-stunning Sarah Gadon), yet also shows no remorse when taking out his enemies in the most grotesque PG-13 fashion. Taking into account that Stoker's immortal creation took inspiration from the barbaric king, and the real life ruler was admired by his people despite what history textbooks tell you, it's an interpretation that looks good on paper, but sadly ends up depicting the character as your typical period drama war hero. Despite this, Evans still manages to give a convincing performance as your everyday action lead, and outperforms the entirety of the supporting cast -  Cooper's villain is snore inducing, Gadon as stated previously is unoriginally loving and naive, and the few key characters we're supposed to root for have so little development, it's impossible to feel empathy when they're taken out of the picture. The only acception here is Dance's vampire, who's camp performance paired with over-the-top dialogue is surely giggle worthy. 

In addition, it's disappointing that the film is your stereotypical historical war epic, with a plethora of action sequences and a surprisingly small amount of gore and horror elements; a fact that many die-hard Drac fans will disapprove of. It certainly doesn't warrant it's 15 age rating here in the UK, especially considering that the character had so much more potential in exploring depictions of sexual predators (teased at in one scene to no avail) and the psychological torment of being this immortal creature. Alas, instead we have to sit through clichéd romantic speeches and fight scenes so fastly edited together that it gives you little time to admire the decent costumes and effects; which although appear very cheap at times, are a nevertheless interesting spectacle to look at - I haven't had this much fun watching flying rodents kick ass since Batman Begins.

Perhaps the most bizarre of the film's nonsensical elements is the cinematography from John Schwartzman, who makes almost every fight scene like a modern Michael Bay flick (no surprise then that the two have previously worked together). This can range from random cuts to extreme close ups of objects that later come in to play as a form of half-arsed foreshadowing, to a baffling view of one battle via the reflection of a sword. Again, sounds good on paper, but in practice is cringeworthy and showcases the film's try-hard tone. Speaking of which, Schwartzman's landscape shots are as unoriginal as the rest of the film's premise; the overuse of CGI in the background and in particular the shots of the Turkish Army approaching would make Hobbits across the globe cry foul play. The only thing perhaps more frustrating is the film's ridiculous twist ending that screams sequel material - and trust me when I say you really won't see it coming. 

Overall though, Dracula Untold is not without merit. Despite the annoying use of modern dialogue (We're pretty sure they wouldn't ask if you were 'OK' in the 15th century) and lines more cheesy than a Margherita, the action sequences are fun to watch and are sure to make you leave the theatre with an empty popcorn bucket in hand. The sets, though again predominantly taking heavy liberties from J.R. Tolkien's iconic work, are also nice to look at, featuring some breathtaking shots of the forest and mountains. It's the kind of film you'd enjoy renting on DVD when you don't feel like watching (you guessed it) another damn Hobbit movie. 

In conclusion then, Dracula Untold offers us a plot that is unique in premise but not in execution. It's practically the epitome of unoriginality at its finest, yet the over-the-top performances and surprisingly unexpected twists in the story prevent the film from completely draining the life from you; but if Twilight isn't your type of vampire flick, then the film certainly lacks the sharp edge you're looking for to bite down deep in your interest. 

Score: 4/10

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham Review

The Suicide Squad gets their small screen debut in this animated Arkhamverse thriller.

With the imminent release of Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham franchise coming sometime next year, Warner Bros. decided to keep fans occupied with Batman: Assault on Arkham, the series' first venture into feature length film. Don't let the title fool you though; this animated heist flick may be based in the Arkhamverse, but follows the story of the Suicide Squad, a band of supervillains contracted by the government to carry out deadly missions in order to lessen their prison sentences. 

The team, consisting of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, King Shark, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost and Black Spider, are tasked with breaking into Arkham Asylum in order to retrieve a hard drive from The Riddler, who has stolen top secret information about the Squad and is threatening to leak it online. Things aren't going to be easy though, as the Batman is alerted of the break in, and the team must avoid being caught, lest they face certain death from their leader, Amanda Waller. To make matters worse, the Joker breaks free and plans to detonate a bomb that will kill half of Gotham, meaning the Dark Knight has his hands full, and the Squad's loyalties are put to the test. 

As is typical of a Suicide Squad story, there's danger, deception and certain death at every corner, and there are plenty of twists and turns to keep the plot interesting. The story itself becomes very complex further down the line, with multiple subplots coming into play, but all thankfully tying together nicely for the film's climax. There's rarely a dull moment, as the action sequences showcase the film's stellar animation and are a joy to watch, not to mention it was great to see slightly more adult violence in 2D animation, but done in such a manner that it isn't over the top or too grotesque. Humour is also used effectively throughout, making the film highly enjoyable to watch. The jokes hit bullseye the majority of the time, and some moments are so unexpected that they instantly make you laugh out loud. Despite featuring very little, the film successfully uses both Batman and the Joker in bitesize doses, stealing the show each time one is on screen, satisfying die-hard fans of the two nemeses whilst also keeping the main focus on 'Task Force X'. Ultimately though, the film's focus on the character interactions of the Squad is it's highlight, with sharp dialogue and a constant uncertainty of how trustworthy the team-mates are that makes the characters much more interesting to watch interact with one another. 

It's a shame then, that the film predominantly focuses on just Deadshot and Harley Quinn rather than each team member individually; though the latter's portrayal by Hynden Walch is the surprise stand-out performance of the film (although her over-the-top characterisation feels out of tune with the Clown Princess of Crime's usual mannerisms), Deadshot is portrayed too sympathetically in an attempt to make a personal connection to the audience, contrasting to his over-confident personality we see in the Batman: Arkham games and other media. Though this depiction is true to the character's comic backstory, the film overuses this trait to make him seem a more empathetic protagonist to the viewer, but ultimately makes the character seem a tad cliché. Black Spider and Killer Frost get the short end of the stick, having the least amount of screen time, with Frost in particular having a disappointing portrayal in which she's forcibly written as a love interest for King Shark. 

Both characters have their moments though, and nevertheless the film's outstanding voice work manages to give each individual so much personality, even when the script restricts them. Veteran voice actors Kevin Conroy (Batman: Arkham series), Troy Baker (The Last of Us), John DiMaggio (Futurama) and Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect) amongst many more lend their talents to the film, achieving pure perfection with each line delivery and giving each character a memorable portrayal through just their vocal chords. The only let down is CCH Pounder as Squad leader Amanda Waller, who although performs fantastically as always as the no-nonsense government official, is given very little to do throughout the film and is written too naively in the third act to be taken seriously. 

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the film is that many elements felt out of place. Though the majority of the adult content is done effectively and in-character (we never thought we'd see the day where the Joker proclaims, "I'm here bitches!" and still be funny), there was a large amount of sexual content that was either deliberate fan service or forcefully written-in events that served to tie the film in to New 52 lore. Though the latter plot device comes into better light as the film progresses, the fan service depicts the female Squad members as sex pests, and although modern DC comics are no stranger to exploring sexual themes, these elements felt like they were put in the film "just because" and didn't serve to drive the plot forward. 

In addition, having the film based in Rocksteady's Arkhamverse feels extremely out of place. The Tarantino-inspired violence and comedy completely juxtaposes to the gothic and mature setting of the video games, making you wonder at times why the film-makers even bothered to make the film canon in Arkhamverse lore in the first place.  Of course the simple answer to that question is brand recognition, in an attempts to get more sales from avid video game fans, and it's a pity that Warner Bros. felt a Suicide Squad film wouldn't get mainstream attention of its own accord. 

However, the film takes many liberties in remaining faithful to Rocksteady's depiction of the Dark Knight, having many easter eggs scattered throughout for keen-eyed Arkham fans to spot, and certain character interactions that hint to this universe's rich history as a whole. In particular, many of Batman: Arkham Asylum's set pieces are beautifully recreated for the film, and although these picturesque backgrounds contrast to the film's main art style, they still stand out as one of the film's highlights, and make it worth a second viewing to see what you missed out first time around. 

Overall, Batman: Assault on Arkham stands out as one of DC's best direct-to-DVD line-up, relying upon it's thrilling action sequences and vibrant character dynamics to carry it forward. Having the villains take centre stage allows for a refreshing viewing experience, and will certainly make you want to see more of the Suicide Squad as soon as possible. But despite having stand out moments of dark comedy and character interactions, many elements feel too forced or clichéd in order to appeal to a wider audience, which takes away some enjoyment of the film. As an experimental adult animated flick though, it's definitely worth a shot. Yahtzee!

Score: 7/10

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 4 Review

Is the penultimate episode of TellTale's Fables franchise worth sinking your teeth into?

A fatal flaw of many second-to-last entries of a series is that they usually only serve to hype up their finales, and so are often victims of originality and little plot development. This is partly the case for Episode 4 of 'The Wolf Among Us', which has already had it's fair share of dull moments throughout it's steady release pattern.

Though the majority of 'In Sheep's Clothing' serves as exposition for the series' final chapter, Episode 4 has a few stand out moments that'll keep the player interested. We're immediately reminded of the events of the night before, being forced to grimace our way through a button mashing sequence to repair a bloodied and bruised Bigby's broken arm. It's an opening that certainly pulls you back into the danger our main characters are facing, though the tension quickly dies down and we're faced with a lengthy dialogue driven encounter with Snow White and your porky flatmate Colin. In fact, several sections of this episode are driven by character interactions; with some being more bearable to sit through than others. Your encounter with Beauty and the Beast in particular is a bore to endure, as their sympathetic portrayal from previous episodes is completely reversed and are suddenly depicted as one-dimensional spoiled brats. 

Most of the characters also continue to be oblivious to the player's previous choices, as noted in my review of Episode 3 here, with very little dialogue variation on this part. There are a few more choices to make within this episode that will undoubtedly affect the player's experience in Episode 5, but it's a pity we have to wait for the finale to see our minor decisions come into play.

This episode does however contain another multiple choice segment, with each path, although both ultimately coming to the same conclusion, offering unique interactions and dialogue for the player. This certainly makes the user's journey more adapted to their playstyle and specific to their choices from throughout the series. It can be noted though that your choice here does not alter the overall outcome - Bigby still learns the same information either way. Although a neat addition to the series' gameplay, it would be better for future installments if these 50/50 choices had a greater impact on the overall story; the best of which was in Episode 1, but even then, the character in question has only appeared once in the series if you managed to save them, having no impact whatsoever on your journey.

There's also very little actual detective work within this episode - a lot of the revelations made were ones that I'd deduced of my own accord, and few answers are obtained for the more important questions at hand. Unlike previous installments, the player doesn't have the option to deduce the evidence through their dialogue choices, which I found to be one of the more interesting aspects of investigation throughout the series. It's for this reason that very little really progresses story wise within the episode, which means there's a lot to wrap up in the upcoming finale. 

However that doesn't mean the episode is without it's thrills. There's an excellent fight sequence where you face off against the fantastically designed Jersey Devil, another of the Crooked Man's goons, in a heart pounding quick time event, where you'll get some much needed help from an old friend. It's also key to note that the actual climax of the episode is incredibly successful at building up suspense and creating a very unsettling atmosphere for the player, and really hypes up the series' final episode. Just make sure you choose to 'Smoke' as your final option - you won't regret the fantastic cliffhanger you'll receive for it. 

Ultimately, Episode 4 of The Wolf Among Us is very hit and miss in terms of both gameplay and story, which leaves a lot to be desired. It's up to the final chapter then to give us a gut wrenching conclusion to TellTale's fairytale noir, where we can hopefully see all of our choices come into play when the case is finally closed. 

Score: 6/10

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Batman Arkham Origins: Cold, Cold Heart DLC Review

Is the final DLC for Batman: Arkham Origins a frozen delight or another Schwarzenegger?

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and Warner Bros. Games Montreal certainly stepped up to the plate with this final DLC for their take on Rocksteady's Arkham franchise.  And whom better to dive into the 'Origins' of than Mr. Freeze, a Batman rogue who rose to fame after his appearance in the iconic animated series in the early 90s.
In fact, it's hard not to see the developers' love for 'BTAS' throughout this story DLC - the plot is loosely based on fan favourite episode 'Heart of Ice', in which The Dark Knight must rescue humanitarian Ferris Boyle from a chilly demise at the hands of one giant ice robot, but all is not as it seems. Even the opening title screen beautifully mimics the original series' title card, and there are multiple references through dialogue that are subtle nods to the infamous episode. Needless to say, knowledgeable Bat fans will definitely appreciate these Easter eggs.
The story itself is essentially a retelling of said episode, but has more twists and turns for gameplay value. We open with a fantastic sequence in Wayne Manor, where you fight your way through thugs that have invaded the mansion before travelling through a secret passage to don your cape and cowl. From then on it's a race to find Mr. Boyle before Freeze quite literally breaks the ice, and you'll bump into a few familiar faces along the way, including a hilarious cameo from Nolan North as the Penguin, who was sadly underutilised in the main campaign. Maurice LaMarche reprises his role from Arkham City as Freeze, and his voice work shines through as the highlight of the DLC. With such well written dialogue paying homage to the original animated classic, it's bizarre to be both intimidated by and sympathetic towards a character in such a way. Overall the story is a little underwhelming if you know the basics of Freeze's origins, especially considering how emotionally driven it's source material was, but has a few touching moments here and there to keep you interested.
 Gameplay has also evolved thanks to the addition of the new XE suit; an Iron Man-esque fashion statement that allows you to kick criminal ass whilst in subzero temperatures, and use your Thermal Gloves to free frozen civilians, or just allow for interesting new takedowns. Whilst the suit has a great design, with its bulky shoulder pads and mouth-less cowl, the only new feature it gives us is a copy and paste of the Shock Gauntlets from the main game. Whilst this is only a slight disappointment, it's a shame to also see this new suit isn't available to use in the external challenge maps, nor are any of the new locations available as said maps outside of this DLC. It's a flaw that Arkham City's 'Harley Quinn's Revenge' also had, and one that will hopefully be fixed third time around for the upcoming Arkham Knight.
Unfortunately this isn't the only deja vu you'll notice in this DLC. In the free roam sections of the game (notably reduced down to just the South District of Gotham, giving you a much smaller environment to play with), you'll have the chance to take out some Anarky thugs in order to earn yourself some upgrades. Whilst this could have been an interesting side quest to tie in with the main narrative, it's evident some of these sections were taken directly from gameplay shown at Origin's E3 preview last year - which didn't make the final cut of the main game. Interesting really, when you think about how developers Warner Bros. Games Montreal stated they wouldn't be releasing any more patches for the infamously buggy Arkham Origins to focus on this DLC, yet they merely added unused elements into the latter. Sheer laziness, or severe pressure from Warner Bros? That's an answer to decide for yourself. Regardless, the Anarky missions are few in number and are basic combat encounters that are brain-numbingly simple to beat.
What is a challenge however is the several Silent Predator encounters you'll face. Multiple enemies, a whole lot of guns, hostages to boot - you'll need to think your way through these ones. The boss fight is, again, suspiciously similar to Arkham City's Mr. Freeze showdown, but incorporates these stealth elements to the point where you really have to be on your toes to avoid getting spotted. Combat remains the same, and offer less of a challenge if you're an experienced Arkham gamer. However the introduction of enemies with cryogenic equipment is a nice little addition that is a neat aesthetic touch, but can become tedious to avoid.
 Another disappointment is the laggy graphics. There is a distinct difference between the CGI cutscenes and the ones rendered in-game, and the lip sync is frankly embarrassing. It's a shame really, as many of said computer rendered cinematics are stunning to look at, and a lot of the new locations such as Wayne Manor and Nora's containment unit are great setpieces to admire. You'll find yourself sitting through many black loading screens in order to transition into a dialogue driven encounter, and then grimace your way through dodgy lip movements. It's a problem I certainly never noticed in the main game itself, so it's a pity to see it show up here when several elements of this DLC seem lazily strung together as is.
At its core, A Cold, Cold Heart is a neat little extra to add to the Arkhamverse lore, but fails to add any original gameplay aspects that'll make you get your money's worth. Thankfully, its clear love for Batman: The Animated Series saves this DLC from freezing solid in the ice cold blizzard of unoriginality, and is sure to warm true Bat fans' hearts.
Score: 5/10

Monday, 14 April 2014

The Wolf Among Us: Episode 3 Review

The midway mark of TellTale's fairytale noir returns the series to its bloody brilliance.

Being the halfway point of any series is difficult as it is, let alone that of a franchise created by  award winning developers. Yet 'A Crooked Mile' serves up the perfect recipe for a detective RPG, and we finally get to see some of our all important choices come into play.
Picking up after the cliffhanger of Episode 2, Sheriff Bigby Wolf finds himself in a race against the clock to track the location of Fabletown's very own Keyser Söze, offering players the best multiple choice decision of the series so far. You quite literally become the detective, choosing where to investigate first, and fast. The story based timer and multiple story options that come with this portion of the episode are fantastic, amping up the tension to an insane degree where you'll stop at nothing to make sure you get the evidence you need. You'll find yourself tactically choosing what objects to click in order to find out what's important and vice versa, and the odd chiming of a clock in the background really helps to make the player feel completely immersed in this race against time. It's an episode that'll definetly be worth replaying to see what clues you missed out on first time around. 
The rest of the episode is also solid, with your playstyle finally seeming to have an impact on others. Characters will have different interactions depending on your previous choices, and each individual suprisingly begins to hold out on their own in this installment. You can find yourself empathising with Holly the Troll just as much as the protagonist you're playing. What can be pointed out though is that most changes in characters' behaviour seems to be based more upon major story decisions within the series (killing said person here, beating up said person there) rather than one on one character interactions. Despite backchatting to Snow White on every available occasion, she'll still be kind hearted towards you rather than tutting at your every move like in previous episodes. Hopefully this is something that can be improved in Episode 4.
Choices also appear to be limited in some instances. For example, when questioned if you believe a character is guilty, the vocal options are "No, he's guilty.", "What do you mean?" and "How do you know?" Spot the difference? The player's own deduction of the mystery is therefore limited in expression, and offers little expansion when it comes to your own theories.
The episode does however introduce new characters to the franchise's folklore - including comic staple Flycatcher and the ruthless Bloody Mary, an antagonist exclusive to the TellTale's take on the Fables comics, and a villainess that will certainly leave a lasting impression next time you look in a mirror. 
The series is fundamentally a murder mystery, and as is typical of the genre we get a few red herrings and more questions appearing than actually being solved by the end of it all. It's a lot to answer for in just two more episodes, and although very little moves forward in the grand scheme of things, we do get the resolution of one character's arch, though even that is cut short by the game's phenomenol climax.
Whilst previous episodes had few truly intense action moments, the finale of 'A Crooked Mile' is, in short, badass in every sense of the word. Combat remains to be basic, but little impact is needed to exaggerate the brutal showdown that takes place, and is by far one of the series highlights. We see Bigby as we've never seen him before - and it's a beatdown that will certainly be hard to forget.
All in all, the third installment of 'The Wolf Among Us' can sometimes leave you howling for a full moon, but successfully hypes up what's sure to be a heart pounding penultimate episode.
Score: 8/10