Stand aside Evil, I won’t be as gentle! Dragon Age II under (too) close scrutiny.

Just read an article over at IGN360 about Dragon Age II and it’s “improvements” and “updates”. I’m a little dismayed to tell you the honest truth. If you can’t be bothered to read their whole article (I don’t blame you – read mine instead), the gist of it is that the sequel to the acclaimed Role Playing Game (RPG) has been tweaked to look considerably better on consoles “especially”. “Especially” in that context means, ‘but dumbed down for PC’. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

– The necessity and skilled usage of the pause button has diminished it seems, as individual enemies ‘go down fairly easily’.

– Zooming out has been limited (even further) than in the original game. To the extent that you can’t zoom out beyond the ceiling of the room you are in! I think I feel sick.

In fact, this line from the IGN article pretty much sums up the changes to Dragon Age II, and it doesn’t appeal to me for obvious reasons:

It seems as though BioWare is taking Origins, which was super nerdy and very specifically targeted players like me, and giving it a graphical facelift so it can appeal to a wider crowd.

A wider crowd. Ach, what tasteless words. What that means is, they’ve stripped it of all complexity and cult attraction and all but blockbusterised it. I know that’s not a word, but come on! In the immortal words of Ricky Gervais, “Fuck the crowd, most of them are idiots.” He couldn’t be more right. The problem is, most of them are idiots with wallets, and BioWare, like every business since time itself, is all about the money.

Anti-capitalist rant aside, I am absolutely gutted about the lack of zoom out function. The main reason I loved DA: Origins was that it could be played in the style of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. All RPGs these days are way too close up and, for lack of a better word, 3D. (I’ve talked about how much I hate that before…) It was a downhill trend which started (I think) with Neverwinter Nights. Still great, but lacking.

I’m one of those gamers who plays for the compelling storyline, the spectacular magic and mystery, the ludicrously expansive side quests. Nobody cares if there’s a little more glass on the ceiling chandeliers, or if the blood splatter on your character’s face has increased since the last gory battle. Hell, at least give us the option to look on from a distance.

I want sorcery and adventure and a birds eye view. In that order. And while you’re at it BioWare, let us string the commands together like the old days. I want to prove my mastery by casting the perfect killer combo before my enemy has incanted their first spell. Sure, Dragon Age II will do for now, of course, but when you’ve created a game as thorough as Baldur’s Gate again then you’ll really have my attention.

Yup, Minsc and Boo stand ready…

Neville Longbottom, a little worse for wear…

I’m not normally one to hype movies, but come on, it’s Harry Potter. This film marks the end of an era – Potter has definitely been a landmark of my generation.

A new photo released by Warner Bros of the grand finale of the Harry Potter franchise gives us our first look at Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – specifically, we get a glimpse of Neville Longbottom, bloodied and tattered during the Battle of Hogwarts.

I’m guessing Lucius Malfoy is the blonde character in the background on the left, whilst the witch behind Neville is evidently the wonderfully malicious Bellatrix Lestrange, played by Helena Bonham Carter.

Anyone have any guesses to the identity of the other characters? Seems like Filch on the right, but that’s a little unlikely. Suggestions?

Image via Collider.com

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2Iron Man 2 (2010)

Director: Jon Favreau
Writers: Justin Theroux
Main Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson
Release: 30th April 2010 (UK)

Country of Origin: USA
Certificate: 12
Runtime: 124 min

An action packed sequel to the blockbuster hit, Iron Man 2 doesn’t pull any punches trying to better it. Indeed, facing stiff competition and inevitable comparison to every other super hero flick, it couldn’t afford to be anywhere close to lacklustre. It isn’t. On the contrary, Iron Man 2 crackles with excitement and thrills and delivers a satisfyingly concrete story too.

The hotly anticipated second film in what is looking to be an Iron Man Trilogy doesn’t waste any time easing you in but drops you straight back in the action, continuing on shortly after the global revelation at the end of the first outing that Tony Stark is in fact, the Iron Man. The production team had no easy task this round, attempting to up the ante on the original, set up a sequel and simultaneously begin introducing characters and plot lines to carry over in to future films of, for example, The Avengers and Captain America, both in the production pipeline. They don’t succeed flawlessly, but almost…

Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) isn’t a bad guy like Jeff Bridges was in the first film – he has a lot less lines, considerably less screen time and a dodgy russian accent that’s so thick you’ll struggle interpreting even his basic english. He’s a decent villain, but you won’t find yourself hating him, and he never seems all that much of a threat to Iron Man. The real villain of the piece, as loveable as he is, is Justin Hammer, played with glorious finesse by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell evidently enjoys the role and happily dominates the screen in all of his scenes. One particularly memorable moment sees Hammer dancing on to a stage to Average White Band’s funky tune, ‘Pick Up The Pieces’. He’s definitely got the moves; slick, stylish, effortlessly cool and sexy enough to turn on a eunuch. And speaking of sexy – Stark Industries has never had so much sex appeal now that the beautiful Natalia Rushman (Scarlett Johansson) has joined the team. When you see her in action it would be hard not to agree with Tony Stark: “I want one”. It can’t all be eye candy though (although it seems like it at times) and alongside all this glamour poor Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) seems a touch bland.

You could never claim that Iron Man 2 isn’t fast paced! Not many action hero films start with a boss fight. They tend to be reserved for the final few minutes in what has become a boringly inevitable segment of the super hero movie. Not so in Iron Man 2. Stark and Vanko/ Whiplash face off in the first ten minutes in an adrenaline fuelled exchange that showcases some seriously top notch CGI work. In fact, it’s worth making a note now, that where special effects are concerned, Iron Man 2 is extremely impressive.

Naturally Stark batters Vanko and leaves him to rot in prison, but not before providing a few technological tips about his weaponry to ensure that if he did ever get out…their final encounter will look a bit more flashy. Of course, pride goes before a fall and Tony Stark falls hard pretty soon after.

In fact, for a good portion of the film, the egotistical Iron Man comes across a little defeatist. He’s dying of palladium poisoning, he’s been subpoenaed and the US Government are demanding possession of the suit. Whilst battling evil is all in a days work for Stark, these relatively banal problems are just too much. He does what every troubled hero does – goes on a booze bender. It’s not as dire as it sounds. Whether it’s a drunken punch up fully clad in the suit, clay pigeon shooting with Champagne Bottles or busting clunky moves on the disco dance floor – it’s action comedy gold with extra comedy.

Yes, humour is a big part of Iron Man’s character and the film as a whole. Generally Downey Jr. handles it so fluidly you’d think he was that witty every day, but sometimes the quips are fired and misfired a little too fast to be enjoyed. He’s not the only one spouting one-liners though as it seems screenwriter Justin Theroux dished them out with abandon – even the bad guys ooze enough comic charisma to make you feel upbeat and optimistic about their treacherous scheming.

Iron Man 2 definitely asserts itself as the big brother to it’s predecessor and no doubt this will cause parallels to the other great action hero sequel, The Dark Knight. The fact is though, the films fundamentally differ in one significant respect: there is nothing dark and nothing menacing about Iron Man 2 – it’s simply a film that knows what the viewer wants and all but overdoses them on it. Director Jon Favreau has stepped up just about everything: bigger explosions, grander ego, funnier jokes and of course, smarter technology. Steel yourself – Iron Man 2 will blow your socks off.

Mark Kermode’s Rants. Or Rather Reviews…

Thanks to Adam Cross for drawing my attention to the frenetic, exasperated ramblings that are Mark Kermode’s Film Reviews. I’ve not listened to them on the radio (5 Live on Fridays), although I understand that’s when they are broadcast if any of you want to tune in. I have however checked them out on YouTube and they’re really enjoyable and entertaining to listen to.

I think there’s a couple of things makes a review enjoyable – primarily passion. Kermode has got stacks of passion, he positively overflows with it. Agree with him or don’t, but he’ll no doubt have you smiling to yourself, nodding or firmly exclaiming “damn right!” as I did.

Here’s his review of Sex and the City 2, perhaps his most incredulous and enraged. This is part one, it links to part two at the end. I suggest it’s also worth having a look at The Hangover review, largely because I share his views about it and the people who enjoyed it 100%. Let me know what you think.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daOfhAGGuo8[/youtube]