Monday, 22 December 2008
In this world of decaying financial empires and imploding economies it’s good to know that free games are still available. If you find yourself on a long journey, or trapped in a house with relatives trying to regale you with their medical histories, this list of links may provide you with some relief. All of these games should play just fine on any old laptop or decrepit desktop PC.
Minotaur in a China Shop
GOG’s Beneath A Steel Sky and Lure Of The Temptress giveaway
Peggle Extreme on Steam
There’s tons of stuff out there but the games above are some of my personal favourites.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
It's the final episode of Merlin so grab your hankies, dry your tears and feast upon my snark.
The episode starts with Arthur and an entourage of Redcloaks wandering through the forest on a hunting expedition. For some reason Arthur has brought along Merlin who is always useless in this situation. Arthur should probably hire a proper squire rather than using his clueless servant for every task. But hey, he hasn't learned this after 13 episodes so he probably never will.
Suddenly a large CGI monster bursts out of the woods and surprisingly it doesn't look too bad. It's a cross between a snake and erm, a lion or a tiger? It does look a bit like something that would appear in World of Warcraft only more expensive. Anyway whatever it is it charges after the knights who promptly decide to RUN AWAY! Unfortunately Sire Bedivere is a Redcloak so he gets eaten by the beast. Arthur and Merlin don't really look that bothered about it.
The titles roll for the last time, enjoy the sights of the various dodgy monsters and lots of CGI fire.
Back at Camelot Gaius dips into his Monster Manual again and starts to waffle on about the Questing Beast. It seems this monster is a herald of upheaval and the last time it appeared was when Uther's wife died. Uther doesn't heed the warning though as he's an arrogant douche. Gaius tells Merlin that the Questing Beast's bite will cause death and there is no known cure.
Later on Morgana makes a scene when she has one of her rare and unused-unless-it's-vital-to-the-plot prophetic dreams. She panics in front of Arthur's troops during Arthur's rousing speech about monster killing. She warns Arthur not to go on the hunt but he ignores her crazy wailing.
Arthur takes Merlin along again (to be used as monster bait?) and they track the monster to a cave. At this point Merlin hears a hissing sound, "What's that?" he asks knowing full well that the Questing Beast HAS A SNAKE FOR A HEAD. I hope the Questing Beast kills Merlin instead of Arthur then we could focus on the adventures of Gaius Meldrew instead. It'd be like a fantasy version of One Foot In The Grave, think about it, it'd be awesome.
The creature manages to sneak up behind the bumbling duo and Arthur promptly waves his sword at it. As it's a fight between an actor and a piece of CGI there's no real contact between the two so the fight is pretty lame. Arthur is eventually swiped aside by the creature's talons. Merlin uses his telekinesis to thrust Arthur's sword into the Questing Beast's neck which kills it.
Unfortunately Arthur has been poisoned and will die. For reals. Honest. There's lots of angst, teary expressions and the traditional body-being-carried-by-someone-who-eventually-drops-to-their-knees scene.
Arthur isn't quite dead though, so Merlin tries some magic which doesn't work. He decides to expand the budget on the episode by visiting the John Hurt CGI dragon. The dragon tells Merlin about the 'Old Religion' and that it is the key to finding a cure for Arthur. The dragon advises Merlin to visit the Isle of The Blessed to find a cure.
Merlin informs Gaius of his plan to visit the magic isle but Gaius warns Merlin not to go as the price will be to high for Arthur's life. Gaius Merldrew can't stop Merlin from going so he gives Merlin a lucky rabbit's foot which was a gift from Merlin's mother. Why Gaius didn't give him this foot earlier during the many other dangerous missions isn't explained. Maybe Gaius has been using it at the bookies?
Merlin sets off to the Isle to the tune of John Hurt's voice. Meanwhile Gwen visits Arthur and tends to his comatose form. She starts to talk to him about the 'man inside him' and some other sentimental nonsense about destiny. At least she's talking to Arthur now, this hasn't been "will they, won't they" it's been more "do they know each other at all".
Merlin reaches a shore and can see the CGI isle. He jumps in a boat with no oars. Luckily for Merlin he knows telekinesis otherwise he'd have to swim. Merlin floats around the moat of some old castle until he finds a stone circle and Nimueh (Michelle Ryan)! Nimueh asks the question, "Do you know who I am?" Of course he does! You tried to kill him in an earlier episode! I guess the question is for the audience so those who have very short memories or are watching Merlin for the first time can be reminded or informed. Still, it's a very clumsy way of doing it.
The Bionic Woman produces the Holy Grail (sorry the Cup Of Inconvenient Life) and gives Merlin some magic water to use to cure Arthur. Unfortunately the deal is a life for a life so Merlin offers his own life and then merrily rides off thinking that he has nobly sacrificed himself.
Merlin delivers the cure and Arthur recovers. Morgana decides to act all weird again (because the writers haven't given her anything to do) and she tells Merlin that "this is only the beginning". Well, that was vague enough to mean something and yet nothing. Arthur tells Gwen that he heard everything she said while he was in a coma but Gwen becomes embarrassed and runs off.
Gaius is suspicious of Merlin's deal and Merlin is concerned as he hasn't dropped dead yet. A cloaked, hunched figure wanders into Camelot later that night (the guards don't bother to stop or question it, making me think they're exchange guards from Robin Hood). The figure turns out to be Merlin's mum and she's covered in boils. It seems that Merlin's deal was twisted by Nimueh and it's now Merlin's mother who will die instead. Oh well, his mum did abandon him and banish him from his home so it's not like she's Parent of the Year or anything.
Merlin visits the dragon who informs him that he couldn't allow Merlin to die so he made sure that his mother would perish instead. Merlin doesn't take this news well and vows to ensure that the dragon will never be released from his subterranean prison. The dragon then decides to breathe on Merlin:
That looks expensive doesn't it? Anyway, Merlin uses Fire Shield to resist the dragon's breath and vows that he'll never see the dragon again. Sounds like they've broken up.
It's at this point things get a bit silly as Merlin wants to go back to swap his life for his mother's. The druids on the Isle of the Blessed must get really tired of people visiting, trading their lives and then other people turning up and counter trading. It must get very complicated.
Merlin says his goodbyes to Arthur and calls him a prat. Unfortunately Arthur does not respond by kicking Merlin's ass. However, whilst Merlin has been getting teary eyed over Arthur, Gaius has sneaked out to the isle instead of Merlin. Merlin discovers a note left by Gaius and decides to ride after him so they can fight over who will sacrifice himself.
Gaius talks to Nimueh and offers his life which is surprising to Nimueh as she apparently would never have foreseen it. Guess she doesn't watch the show.
Merlin arrives just in time to see Nimueh seemingly finish the ritual over Gaius's prone, dead form. Merlin is all angry and stuff so he casts Magic Missile at Nimueh. She responds by offering to team up with Merlin so that together they can rule the galaxy (sorry world, it's just that this scene seems to have been lifted from Return of the Jedi). Merlin refuses so Nimueh zaps him with a Fireball spell. Merlin responds by casting Lightning Bolt and disintegrates Nimueh.
Merlin finds Gaius's body and cries, "NAAAAWWWWWWW!" He messes up the traditional cry of "Noooooooo!" I don't believe it.
Don't worry though because Gaius is miraculously okay. Hurrah!
The dragon isn't happy though and throws a tantrum. His shouting and crying awakens Morgana...
So that's the end of Merlin series one. It wasn't a terrible show by any means and sometimes it had some interesting ideas and themes. On the whole though it suffered from being formulaic and predictable. There are some solid foundations for the future of the show and hopefully next time it will be more ambitious. Next season's dynamic could be interesting if Morgana becomes the new protege of the dragon and starts to learn magic.
TV Snark will return next year when Robin Hood's third season begins, and boy am I looking forward to that! I'll be filling the time between then with my usual collection of reviews and comic panels so stay tuned.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
TV Snark - Merlin: To Kill the King OR Everybody Hates Uther And Then They Suddenly Change Their Mind
The episode begins with Tom the Blacksmith (you may remember him as Gwen's dad or you may not as he doesn't do a lot on this show and he never will) visiting his daughter Gwen to give her a shiny new dress. Seems that Tom has come into some money and can afford to buy his daughter nice dresses that she can wear whilst scrubbing floors and fetching water for ungrateful nobles. Tom has some shady new job that pays well, I'm sure it won't go horribly wrong.
Oops, spoke too soon! Later that night a Shady Man turns up at Tom's smithy and uses a magic stone to turn lead into gold. He's a Shady Alchemist! No sooner has the molten gold begun to cool then Arthur and his men burst into the smithy to arrest Tom. Shady Man uses a cloud of smoke to escape, sadly he doesn't laugh manically as he disappears, he opts to run away instead. I wonder who told Arthur that Shady Man (or Tauran as he's called) was visiting the blacksmith? Maybe it was Gwen? She probably wants to inherit the smithy so she can make swords for her and Morgana so they can run around being action grrrrrls. Merlin's plot device sense is tingling as the use of powerful magic wakes him from his sleep. Of course, this doesn't matter as Gwen immediately appears and tells Merlin that her dad has been arrested. The writer's are being really lazy this week.
Uther refuses to release Tom as he insist that the law must be upheld and Tom must die. Arthur and Morgana manage to convince Uther to at least hold a trial first before killing Tom, which is more than any other sorcerors have got on this show so far.
Gaius Meldrew then dispenses fantasy knowledge of the week as he explains what alchemy is to Merlin. Thanks for the knowledge Gaius. Morgana decides to investigate the smithy and finds Shady Man's magic alchemy stone (the Philosopher's Stone?). Morgana then decides that Tom won't get a fair trial so she sneaks a prison key to Tom and suggests he use it to escape. It's at this point he pulls a very funny face in an excellent piece of overacting. I'm sorry but Tom (David Durham) is really poor in these scenes and he comes across as a mentally slow, gentle giant. Unfortunately, he's supposed to be the best blacksmith in the land and the father of the future queen of England. Here's his face after receiving the key, is he shocked? Has he seen a rat in the corner of his cell? Or does he have a cell mate beckoning him to his bunk? Who knows.
Morgana's plan gets Tom killed of course. At this point the audience should be sad but as we've hardly ever seen Tom over the course of the past twelve episodes, it's a little hard to drum up any feelings. Tom's death is just a catalyst for Morgana to go a bit stroppy and slightly-but-not-very-evil-at-all for an episode because Uther commanded that Tom be killed on sight.
Gwen sees Tom's corpse being carried across the courtyard so she gets to yell, "Nooooo!" and "Faaaaatherrrr!" Brilliant because it reminded me of Matt Berry yelling it in The IT Crowd (excuse the strange foreign dubbing but this was the best clip I could find of it on YouTube.)
Anyway, Morgana is angry. This is her angry face.
She talks to Uther which gets her thrown in the dungeon. That'll teach her to express her opinions! Uther resists cackling and rubbing his hands together, which is a shame.
Arthur shows that he's a slightly decent person and apologises to Gwen and offers his services should she need anything (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). He wasn't decent enough to stand up to his dad and stop him killing Tom though was he?
Shady Man visits Gwen in the night and demands she return his stone to the Darkling Woods in 48 hours. I'm pretty sure you can reach that place in World of Warcraft by jumping on a flying bat, should only take five minutes. Gaius Meldrew checks his Dungeon Master's Guide and finds that the stone in question is called The Mage Stone and is ancient and powerful and blah, blah.
Arthur releases Morgana early from her imprisonment which earns grudging thanks from her. Morgana finds out that Gwen is scared of returning home because she fears Shady Man. Morgana decides to visit Shady Man in Darkling Woods and return his Mage Stone during the night. Merlin's plot device sense is tingling again and he wakes up and follows Morgana into the woods.
Morgana meets Shady Man and his cohorts in the woods and offers to bring Uther to a suitable spot so they can assassinate him. Shady Man is a little disappointed as he was going to use his magic gold to bribe someone into killing Uther. Morgana's method costs nothing so they go for that instead. Merlin overhears all of this and struggles with the ethical dilemma of letting someone assassinate the asshole who'll kill him if he ever catches him using magic.
Merlin visits CGI John Hurt in his dragon lair. The dragon suggests that Merlin let Uther die and free the land from tyranny. Well duh Merlin, it's been obvious that the dragon wants Uther dead since episode one. Pay attention kid!
Morgana makes a fake apology to Uther so she can reminisce about her dead father. It turns out that Uther sent her father to his death in some war or other. This eventually leads to Morgana suggesting that she and Uther visit her father's grave so they can pay their respects. Uther isn't even slightly suspicious at Morgana's about face despite the fact she did the same thing a few weeks ago during the Mordred incident.
Merlin discusses the morality of allowing Uther to die with his mentor Gaius (who gives an intelligent argument about kings making hard choices and Arthur unreadiness for the role) and Gwen (who provides the moral argument that killing Uther would provide no comfort to her and make the perpetrator as ruthless and uncaring as Uther). Gwen's argument sways Merlin and he heads off to stop the assassination.
Uther and Morgana visit the grave in the middle of some empty field somewhere. The Shady Man and his goons wait in ambush but Merlin arrives to save the day. There's even a bit of continuity as Merlin takes with him the Magic Missile wand from the evil fairies episode. He uses the wand to zap all of the goons apart from Shady Man who uses his Mage Stone to deflect Merlin's spell and incapacitate him.
Fortunately for Uther he manages to admit regret at Tom's death and he talks up Morgana's father enough to make Morgana realise that she doesn't want Uther dead. She's so fickle. Shady Man tries to stab Uther but Morgana interferes and ends up stabbing Shady Man in the back which kills him. So ends the revolution.
And that's basically it. Morgana decides she doesn't want to see Uther dead and pushes those feelings of hatred deep down inside where they'll probably later manifest as dressing really sluttily and learning dark magic.
Next Week - Arthur dies! For reals! Well okay, probably not but it is the last episode.
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Yeah, yeah, I'm late. Let's just get started shall we?
The episode begins in a forest, Arthur and some nameless extras pad through the forest in search of hunting trophies. Merlin tags along and is used to flush an unknown creature out of the undergrowth. As usual Merlin complains about the orders given to him by his master and prince, presumably because he still hasn’t grasped the whole feudalism concept.
The creature turns out to be a unicorn with an emo fringe, check it out:
If the unicorn dyed its fringe black and wore a checkered tie it could start its own band, ‘Blood All Over My Girlfriend’ or ‘Mythical Sadness’ perhaps?
Arthur ends the emo unicorn’s life with a crossbow bolt, despite Merlin’s protests. A stereotypical wizard briefly appears behind Arthur but disappears before anyone but Merlin sees him. Arthur is proud of his kill as he descends into the dickish behaviour he exhibited at the beginning of the series. This seems to be an episode that would have been better served appearing earlier in the show’s run, especially as it came a week after Merlin and Arthur declared themselves to be BFF after defending Merlin’s home village.
Arthur takes the unicorn’s horn back to Camelot to show off to Uther who is suitably impressed. Gaius Meldrew isn't impressed though as he's read the unicorn entry in his Dungeon Master's Guide and says that a curse is usually forced on those who kill a unicorn. Then the kingdom’s crops fail overnight. Oh no, come-uppance!
Uther says it's food rationing time and the citizens of Camelot promptly go batshit and start stealing looting. Because there's been no clear indication of the passage of time, it seems that the citizens start panicking about five minutes after the crops fail. Uther loves this as it gives him an excuse to execute people. Gwen makes a token appearance so she can operate the water pump to show that the water has been turned to sand. She also mentions that Arthur's great, so there's the seeds of the Gwen and Arthur romance. Merlin tries to use his magic to turn sand into water but he can't do it because this would be a pretty short episode otherwise.
Arthur and Merlin are wandering the streets at night when they see the stereotypical wizard appear in a doorway. After some tedious padding - sorry, frantic searching for the magic, teleporting wizard, he appears before them. His name is Anhora and he's the keeper of the unicorns. I guess he's not very good at his job seeing as he didn't stop Arthur from killing one of his charges. Anhora informs Arthur that the land is cursed because of his equine-icide. Arthur tries to arrest Anhora (because he's an idiot) but Anhora teleports away again.
Then there's a comedy scene that makes no sense. Gaius makes tea out of Merlin's bath water. What? Why is he having a bath during a drought?! Surely the water wasted in bathing could have been used to, hmmmm... let me see, STAY ALIVE?!
Later that night Merlin has been assigned to watch over the food stores, I assume because now he's been promoted to guard duty. Arthur catches him sleeping and tells him off but then they hear the sound of an intruder. It turns out to be a peasant called Evan who has an extremely bizarre accent. I don't know what it's supposed to be, Danish? Whatever it is, Evan manages to spin a story about stealing food to feed his children. Arthur decides to let him go with the grain because sometimes he's a nice guy but a bit of an idiot. Evan the mysterious peasant tells Arthur that mercy will be its own reward.
The next morning the water returns to Camelot. Merlin explains to Arthur that his merciful actions toward the peasant caused the water to come back. Merlin then convinces Arthur to wander back into the forest and look for Anhora. Before they set off, there's time for Merlin to catch a rat and feed it to Arthur in a stew and then they feed it to Morgana. Ho ho ho!
Arthur and Merlin wander the forest looking for Anhora and Arthur stumbles across Evan the strangely accented peasant. Evan doesn't have a family, he has a big stash of food! He was a dirty liar after all. Evan insults Arthur and declares him an unworthy heir. Arthur gets wound up by the taunting and challenges Evan to a duel. Arthur wins but Evan disappears before he can land the killing blow. Anhora appears and informs Arthur that he has failed the test. The test was pride, for those of you not paying attention.
Arthur has made the curse worse as the remaining food stores turn to dust. Uther decides to stop distributing food to the peasants as he wants to keep his army fed. I'm sure his neighbours will be desperate to conquer a land in the middle of a famine. Arthur refuses to give the order to stop distributing the food and Uther replies by blaming Arthur for not catching and killing the sorcerer. That Uther, he's all about the killing and being evil for no good reason.
Merlin visits Anhora in the forest and begs him to give Arthur another chance at passing the curse removal test. Anhora agrees to give Arthur a final test but failure will result in death. Dun, dun, dun....
Arthur seizes the chance to take the test again and rides once more into the forest (they're getting their money's worth out of that location this week). Arthur finds a giant hedge maze in the countryside. Strange that no-one's mentioned that place before, it's massive.
Arthur steps into the rather unimpressive on close inspection maze and wanders around a bit. Merlin goes in after him but gets captured by Anhora and his magic vines. Arthur eventually finds his way out of the not very perilous maze to find a beach with a table and two goblets.
Anhora informs Arthur that one of the cups contains poison and the other contains a harmless liquid (which could be anything, orange juice, milkshake, monkey semen). Arthur and Merlin must drink one of the goblets, one will live, the other will die! It takes the bickering couple ages to deduce that they can simply pour the contents of both goblets into one so that only one of them has to drink. Arthur insists on drinking the mixture of poison and the 'harmless' liquid and downs it in one.
Arthur collapses onto the ground - he's dead! Oh well, guess this series is over. I'd like to thank you for reading my recaps and - Oh, wait. Arthur is merely sleeping, it seems that the harmless liquid combined with the poison to make a sleeping draught. Arthur's always being drugged into unconsciousness, there's probably some horrible slash fiction out there about it. *shudder*
So Arthur passed the test, the land is restored, everyone can eat again, and the emo unicorn comes back to life. Emo unicorn probably doesn't appreciate that though, because well, he's emo. Hurrah for Arthur. The lesson is that it's okay to kill a rare creature as long as you're eventually sorry about it and not to worry because it'll magically resurrect itself anyway.
Next episode - Everybody hates Uther.
Monday, 1 December 2008
Format: PC / Xbox 360
Plot: You are one of four survivors of a zombie apocalypse faced with certain death in a zombie infested city, you must work together to reach safety.
It’s terrifying. The first time you wander into a darkened room with only a narrow circle of illumination from your flashlight to rely on, is the first time you know fear in this game. That feeling stays with you throughout the game. The zombies can appear from anywhere at any time, baying for your blood and smashing their way through doors, climbing fences and generally making a nuisance of themselves. You will come to fear the zombie known only as the Witch…
The special zombies are devious inventions. There are thousands of regular zombies on each level but dotted throughout the course at cinematically appropriate times are the specials. There’s the Smoker, a long tongued bastard that grabs you and pulls you away from the rest of the group. There’s nothing worse than being pulled away from your team as they fight off a regular zombie horde, blissfully unaware that you’re slowly choking to death. That’s why you need to play with a headset and microphone, so you can scream for your life when the Smoker gets you in a dark corner. The Hunter is a malevolent hoodie who crawls around on all fours and leaps great distances toward you, pounces on you and brutally tears away at you as you lie prone and helpless. The Tank is a big mass of muscle that can throw cars, masonry and chunks of floor at you and he will not stop until you are dead. He’s a bastard and he’s extremely hard to kill. The Boomer is a grossly overweight zombie who waddles up to you and vomits all over your face if you let him. If you kill him up close then he explodes all over you and covers you in vomit. The vomit is a special chunky mixture that attracts hordes of zombies, nice. Finally, the Witch rounds out the specials, she’s the one you don’t want to see…ever. She can generally be found weeping in the most awkward place possible. You see, the problem with the Witch is that you can avoid her and not unleash the screaming, clawing, whirlwind of death she becomes but sometimes she’s sitting directly in your path and must be destroyed. Of course killing her before she’s inflicted a significant amount of damage to one of the group is a challenge.
The AI (The Director) provides incredibly cinematic moments. The AI is designed to gauge your performance and decide when and how to attack you for maximum effect. If your team has taken minimal damage and is toting lots of ammunition, the Director will probably withhold an ammo resupply point so it can watch you run low and then throw a Tank or a Witch at you. The Director is evil but he doesn’t want you dead, he wants you to get to the end of the level through teamwork and good play and he won’t make it easy for you. The end of each level always features a dramatic last stand as your team waits for extraction from the zombie filled hell-hole as a multitude of cadavers races toward you, eager to tear off your face. The airport level features an in game event that is simply breathtaking when first viewed.
Cooperation and teamwork is essential. This is a game where the presence of four players is the preferred method of play rather than an exception. It’s nice to see an online shooter where cooperation against the AI is mandatory and, most importantly, fun.
The audio is fantastic. The zombies cry, moan and sometimes seem to form words. The special zombies have their own distinct sounds so you always have an audio cue that one of them is around. The Witch is the most terrifying sound of all, her piteous wailing and crying is extremely disturbing especially as you simultaneously want to and yet don’t want to find the source of the noise.
The storyline is conveyed through graffiti and signs. The developers, Valve, have decided to tell the game’s story through the poignant and sometimes hilarious graffiti and notes left by previous survivors. You’ll find theories on the zombies’ origins, facts about the zombie infection and messages left behind for loved ones. It basically boils down to a collection of very nice easter eggs to be found and read in between the panic and headshots.
The single player campaign is pretty redundant. You can play offline with a bots playing the roles of the survivors. This is nice for practicing levels and getting used to the layouts but it’s a pale shadow of the real experience that is found in multiplayer co-op. The bots are slightly competent but they don’t lead the line or clear rooms for you, making them pretty rubbish really.
It keeps crashing my PC upon exit. This happens to me almost all the time. I don’t know why it happens but it’s very annoying. I blame Vista.
The selection of weapons is small. The firearms are well done as they all seem to look and feel different but perhaps there should’ve been a couple more weapons to choose from. A chainsaw would be fun…
Other people can sometimes suck. If you play random pick up groups you may end up with idiots. I don’t mean poor players (I’m not exactly brilliant, I tend to lurk at the back picking off zombies and generally being a cowardy custard) but players that blunder around, startling Witches and getting themselves constantly incapacitated. So yeah, the standard playing online advice stands, find some reliable friends or join one of the many Steam groups (on PC) available.
(Special Simon Pegg con!) Fast zombies. Because you might have a problem with the whole running zombie concept.
Left 4 Dead takes the zombie cliché and makes it a fresh, dynamic experience. This game is simply pure, adrenaline fuelled entertainment combined with a social life.
Arbitrary Score out of Ten: 8/10