Tag: opinion

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Alien: Covenant – Movie Review

WARNING: Contains minor spoilers.

Those who know me will know that the Alien franchise is, hands-down, my favourite series of movies of all time. I am too young to have actually seen any of the “original” four at the cinema (when they were released, at least) but I have since seen Alien (the Director’s Cut) on the big screen, Prometheus and now Ridley Scott’s new release, Alien: Covenant. I don’t really count the AvP movies as part of the franchise, although I did go and see them when they were released.

It occurred to me as I was planning this review out, that I haven’t actually written any sort of review or retrospective on the other movies in the franchise, which I really must do – but first, a review of Covenant.

Is it set in a nunnery?

That was my first thought when I saw the subtitle, although I soon remembered that that is a convent and not a covenant, which made me feel like a bit of an arse. Not as much of an arse as I felt having paid for two IMAX tickets to see Alien: Covenant, though – and yes, that does mean that I didn’t think that much of the film.

Let’s start with the good bits, shall we?

The Good

Like Prometheus before it, Alien: Covenant is an absolutely beautiful movie. I saw both movies in IMAX (although Prometheus was in 3D also) and the larger screen really does the movie’s visuals justice.

Ridley Scott has obviously not lost his ability to direct a movie either, because the shots themselves are also very well done – from the “landscape” world-building shots of the planet featured in the film to the tight, close-up shots on the various spacecraft – everything is a veritable spectacle.

Two of the characters in the film are excellently portrayed, and it is no coincidence that both of those characters are played by the same actor, the always-worth-the-ticket-price Michael Fassbender. In Prometheus, he played David – a synthetic (sorry, artificial person) – one of only two survivors of the titular spaceship. In Covenant, David returns but Fassbender also plays Walter, an “upgraded” synthetic of the same lineage as the original David. They both have very different personalities and mannerisms, with Walter being empathetic and caring and David being the opposite, narcissistic and uncaring. Fassbender effortlessly deals with this “ambivalence” of character throughout the film.

The musical score is also great, and makes good use of Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien Theme to get you feeling all nostalgic.

Err… that’s about it for the good bits.

The Bad

I’ll get this first one out of the way quickly. I’ve grown very weary of science fiction films (well, films of any genre) that rely on nonsense or stupidity to allow the plot to move forward. Prometheus was a horrific offender in this regard – everyone on that spacecraft was a certifiable moron and had no business being on such a mission. A cartographer who uses mapping drones to create a map of the pyramid they visit, and then proceeds to get lost in said pyramid?

Covenant does not fare much better in this regard. The vast majority of the havoc wreaked upon the crew of the Covenant is as a direct result of their stupidity. In one particular instance, after the excrement has severely hit the fan, the Captain does something so outrageously, mind-bogglingly idiotic that I was taken completely out of the movie – my suspension of disbelief shot to pieces.

Apart from this, there are serious problems with the film’s dialogue. The vast majority is there purely to act as an exposition dump and little else – the characters even go so far as to tell you what has just happened even though you (and they) just saw it as clear as day.

As a consequence of this, there isn’t a great deal of character development. One of the elements of the story is that the crew of the Covenant consists of couples, on their way to another planet to start a colony. However, only three of the eight pairings are explicitly mentioned, so when a couple start snogging in a shower later in the film it comes out of nowhere and almost seems like it’s been put there to fulfil a horror movie trope.

The film is also off in its own little world, thematically speaking. It answers some questions posed by Prometheus, and creates more of its own. My issue with it (and Prometheus, really) is that, without the connection to the Alien movies, they would actually be better. The ending of Covenant is positively terrifying (in a good way) but I find myself not wanting to see a sequel because eventually it’s going to be connected up to the beginning of Alien and (almost certainly) not in a way that makes a lick of sense.

As standalone movies, Prometheus and Covenant would be incredible – sure, they’d still suffer from the poor storytelling and other flaws, but at least they would be interesting and not constantly compared to the Alien franchise.

The Ugly

The CGI – only on the creatures, though. In the film we see “Neomorphs” and “Xenomorphs” (although people online seem to be referring to the latter as “Protomorphs” because they’re not quite the same as the “classic” Alien) and Ridley Scott has not decided to shy away from showing us absolutely every part of them.

Alien and Aliens worked really well because the xenomorph was an unknown entity, that stalked in the shadows and killed you without warning. They were suspenseful and dripping with atmosphere. In Covenant, there’s no mystery to the creatures. It never hides in shadows, it’s not concerned with staying hidden and getting the drop on people. Consequently, it’s very important that the CGI is good enough to pull this off without looking silly.

It doesn’t manage it.

The “Protomorph” Jazz Hands scene will go down in history as one of the strangest things ever put on a cinema screen, in my view – as will a memorable (for all the wrong reasons) scene where David is teaching Walter to play the recorder and says, “I’ll do the fingering.”

TL;DR

The film is enjoyable, and is passable as a movie experience. If it had no connection to the Alien universe, I would be far, far more forgiving of its many flaws, but Alien and Aliens are (quite rightly, in my opinion) considered to be bona fide classics, and by pushing out this movie it’s starting to reflect badly on those films.

Rating: 2/5 – 1 of those points is for Michael Fassbender, the other point is for Katherine Waterston, who does admirably well with the diabolical script.

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Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 (PC)

Hey there, readers! It’s been almost a year since my last post on here, because I’m a complete and utter prat who keeps forgetting that this domain name even exists. Still, never mind, I’m here now, eh?

What’s brought me back into the fold, you may ask? Well, it’s the hotly anticipated release of Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 on the PC (and various other platforms, but I do 99% of my gaming on a PC, so the PC version is what we’re talking about here.)

Championship Edition?

For those unaware, back in 2007 Namco released a new edition in their venerable Pac-Man franchise. The focus was more on high-scores and competition between friends rather than completing mazes, and the game was incredibly well received by many, myself included. The frenetic pace and the gameplay changes surrounding the concept of only eating half of the maze at a time and having optimal paths to do so made going for higher and higher scores very addictive.

In 2010 it was followed by Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (and a DX+ update on Steam) which improved on the formula some more by adding the concept of “collecting” ghosts in a train – ghosts would be sleeping at various parts of the maze and would wake up when Pac-Man flew by. You could then chomp on a power pellet and go straight on down to snack town. Take a look at this video of me playing it if you’re not sure how that works in practice:

As you can see, very different to the original Pac-Man, but also much more fun.

So, the sequel then?

The sequel, imaginatively titled Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, was released at the start of September. It’s basically more or less the same, but they have tweaked the concept a bit – contact with a ghost is no longer instant death as it was previously, now you can bump into a ghost a few times which will “anger” it and make it chase you around the maze, which can be used tactically if you’re skilled enough (I’m not.)

The ghost “trains” that build up over the course of each round are now only munchable if you eat the head ghost, and Pac-Man will then automatically eat the rest of the ghosts, and as if that wasn’t complicated enough, when you eat a power pellet the trains now speed up instead of slow down, but follow preset “escape routes” which are highlighted on the maze so you can “head them off at the pass.”

There are a few other spanners in the works, too – sometimes you’ll come across a “runaway” power pellet or fruit – these will actively try and get away from you as you approach, but with careful decision making and blazing your way around corners you can easily catch up.

Another new addition is boss battles. In these, you have a set amount of time to complete a set number of mazes, and each time a massive ghost behind the maze bumps his noggin on it which triggers the appearance of a couple of extra life power-ups and the fruit/power pellet that you need to get to the next maze.

There are also updates to the “bomb” system from the original game. In the original, you could press Space and (if you had some) a bomb would go off which would send all of the ghosts back to their house and you could carry on your merry way. This was excellent when things got a bit too hair-raising. Now, though, the bomb does the same thing but moves Pac-Man back to his start point. This adds a tactical element whereby you can instantly get to the “reset” fruit by using a bomb.

Is it any good?

It’s fun enough, I suppose – but I have to admit I don’t like it. Take a look at my video below, and I’ll run you through some of the things that I really don’t like.

The first thing that really winds me up about the sequel is that the fruit power-ups needed to reset the maze are “out of the way” and you have to move up or down into the space to eat it. Doing so resets the maze, and puts Pac-Man back in the place above the fruit ready to go again (see 0:14 in the video). This makes sense, of course, but I just can’t gel with it – if you look at the original game up there, Pac-Man never changes direction or moves without your say so, which makes for a much more fluid experience.

In the sequel, his position gets reset whenever the maze resets, and also whenever you eat a ghost train (more on that in a second) and it completely screws with my forward planning.

My other major complaint with the game is the way everything goes a bit haywire when you eat a ghost train. Take a look at 0:40 onwards in the video. When you eat the head of a ghost, the view changes to a sort of “3D camera” and the player loses control of Pac-Man. Pac-Man will snake his way around corners with gay abandon munching on ghosts and then when he’s finished, control is returned to you but suddenly you’re not where you were and you completely lose your bearings.

To make matters worse, the other major problem I have with this new train system is that while Pac-Man is eating a train, if another train passes through the same area (see 0:44 in the video) Pac-Man completely ignores it rather than chowing down on that too. This seems really odd to me, and just adds to the feeling of disorientation that the game gives me.

That’s nothing though compared to what happens when you eat the final train on the maze. Skip ahead to 0:51 on the video and you’ll see what happens when you do this. The camera goes absolutely bonkers and you lose sight of the maze altogether as Pac-Man goes flying off seemingly into space.

When he returns, he’s out back on the maze, directly above the fruit that you need to eat to reset the maze – you have to move down into it, which then triggers the same reset that normally occurs. However, if you don’t do anything, Pac-Man literally just stays there waiting for your command.

In my opinion, which isn’t worth much admittedly, these changes to the core gameplay are great on paper but the execution just flat out doesn’t work – the game wrestles control of Pac-Man away from you far too many times and you just come away feeling like you don’t know what’s going on. Pac-Man should never come to a complete stop once you start him off unless you run him into a wall, it’s fundamental. Interestingly, the game also includes a “brake” button which stops Pac-Man dead in his tracks and can be used to avoid a ghost encounter if you need to. This is probably useful in some of the later mazes, but I’ve not had to use it yet and again it seems like it’s making the game more complex than it really needs to be.

Using the bombs in this game also destroys any flow, as it moves you back to your start point where you stay still waiting for instructions.

The boss battles (not featured in the video) aren’t particularly well thought out, they’re not so much boss battles as timed rounds with some “defeat a boss” animation frippery thrown on top.

Other than this laundry list of complaints, I can’t really think of much else to criticise. The graphics, sound and control scheme are all excellent (although I may just be imagining it, but I’m sure in this game Pac-Man will move “back” a bit to make a turn if you’re a bit late pressing the key, which again makes it very hard to control properly – I can see I’ve passed the turning, so I’m already holding the turn key for the next junction, don’t move me back to the one I’ve missed!)

Conclusion

I’m still unconvinced that this game is an improvement on Championship Edition DX+, but I’ll give it some more time – I may warm up to it after a while.

Rating: 3/5